Ep 124: The Upside of Rude Teens

Episode Summary

Rebecca Reid, journalist and author of Rude, sheds light on the surprising positives to rudeness and how we could all get a bit more rude…without offending anyone!

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

It’s easy to get caught up worrying about your kid behaving rudely when you’re not around. You might be picturing them  going to the neighbor’s house and asking for food they weren’t offered, forgetting to say please and thank you, and causing a huge mess without cleaning it up. No one wants a kid with no manners, so we tend to push politeness onto kids with a fervor. We often try so hard to keep kids from being rude that we force them to swing too far in the other direction, towards being overly courteous, saying “sorry” for everything and letting others walk all over them.

When we teach our kids to be apologetic, we can do more harm than good. Raising an overly submissive teen can mean that they’re not comfortable raising their hand in the classroom, advocating for themselves in a job interview or even saying no to an unwanted sexual encounter. If we want to raise happy and healthy teens,  we have to teach them to be firm, honest, comfortable…and maybe even a little rude.

Today we’re sitting down to chat with Rebecca Reid, author of Rude: Stop Being Nice, Start Being Bold. Rebecca is a regular columnist for Marie Clare, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and more. She also makes regular appearances on Good Morning Britain, where she contributes to conversations about political and social issues. 

Rebecca has been known to be assertive and firm in her convictions…but has always found herself apologizing a little too much. She started to notice that a lot of her submissiveness was caused by how she was conditioned to act as a woman! That’s why she decided to write her book, to help young people, especially girls, understand when it’s ok to be a little impolite and express their true feelings.

In our discussion, she breaks down the difference between positive and negative rudeness, the ways in which we can teach kids to understand consent, and how rudeness plays into the parent-teen relationship.

The Right Kind of Rude

When we hear the word “rude”, we think about everything we don’t want our kids to be. We might conjure up images of people chewing with their mouths open, or loudly interrupting somebody with no regard for this current conversation. When Rebecca talks about raising kids to be a little rude, this isn’t quite what she means.

Rebecca divides rude behavior into positive and negative. Negative rudeness is what you might think when you think of being rude: using vulgar language, cutting someone in line, or insulting someone’s new haircut. Positive rudeness is all about making things a little uncomfortable when needed. If someone’s exhibiting positive rudeness, they alert the waiter when they’re given the wrong order, or tell someone honestly that they’re not interested in going on a date.

In our interview, I talk with Rebecca about how young people, especially girls, have been conditioned to put other people’s feelings before their own. While it can be good to teach kids the importance of being considerate, Rebecca believes we shouldn’t stop there. She says we should also help them understand when it’s appropriate to speak up and communicate their feelings and desires.

Take, for example, the difference between saying “sorry” and “thank you”. When we’re late, we tend to apologize, when our true intention is to show that we appreciate the other person waiting for us.  We’ve grown so used to saying “sorry” for every small mistake, putting ourselves down unnecessarily. Rebecca explains how it’s ok to not apologize, even when our conditioning makes us feel we have to. 

A huge part of discussing communication and assertiveness among young people is the idea of helping them stop an unwanted sexual encounter. Rebecca and I delve into this in the episode.

Helping Teens Understand Consent

Talking to kids about sex is pretty much always awkward…how could it not be? However, if we totally neglect to talk to kids about the birds and the bees, they might not go into it with the right mindset. They might feel like they need to cave to pressure, or may not know the signs that their partner is feeling pressured. 

Rebecca and I talk about how this relates to rudeness–that is, making things uncomfortable for the sake of one’s own well being. It might not be the most agreeable thing to say “no” when someone asks for sex, but it’s the right thing for teens to do if they’re not ready to consent. 

If you want to teach your kid about bodily autonomy, Rebecca says you can start by simply reminding them that they don’t have to do anything they aren’t comfortable with. She suggests explaining to them that if someone is tickling them or tossing them in the air, they can ask for it to to stop. If they don’t want to kiss or hug family members or friends, it can be really valuable to reassure them that they don’t have to.

Similarly, Rebecca suggests creating an environment in your home where teens can come to you if they’ve had a sexual experience they aren’t sure about.  Even though sex can be a touchy topic, giving your kid a safe space to share their concerns can be so important. It’s difficult for teens to turn to somebody when a traumatic sexual situation is weighing on them, and having your support can make a huge difference. 

It’s important for teens to know they can be a little rude when confronted with unwanted sexual activity, but this isn’t the only place where rudeness plays a role. In the episode, Rebecca and I chat about how rudeness factors into parent-teen relationships.

Why Being Rude Matters

As a parent, you’re probably used to telling your teen to stop talking back, to quit giving you sass. But Rebecca says this tendency for teens to rebel against what we ask of them can be integral to their development. They’re experimenting with expressing their own opinions and challenging what they’ve been taught–something they’ll have to learn to do as they grow into adults.  In this case, Rebecca says it’s necessary for teens to be rude, so they can test their own boundaries.

Similarly, it can be important for parents to be a little rude to kids. If you’re having a conversation with another adult, but your kid just won’t stop bugging you, Rebecca says it’s alright to shush your kid and tell them to stop. Although it might be abrupt or a bit curt, you’re helping your kid understand boundaries, and reminding them that they’re not the center of the universe. If you’re not a little rude to them occasionally, they might grow up expecting everyone to tiptoe around them and treat them with total politeness–an expectation that doesn’t match reality.

Rudeness is a difficult line to walk in your relationship with your kid, but it’s better than always pretending every interaction is a frolic through a field of daisies. If  you go too far and find yourself exhibiting negative rudeness, Rebecca says to take it as an opportunity to apologize. Admitting you made a mistake and showing kids you can accept when you’re wrong sets a great example for teens who might find themselves having to do the same thing.

In the Episode…

Rebecca and I discuss all sorts of ways that being a little rude can improve a person’s life. In addition to the topics above, we talk about:

  • How we raise boys to be confrontational and girls to be complicit
  •  Why teenagers “ghost” each other and what to do about it
  • How to have constructive conversations with your kid about social media
  • What you should know before talking to teens about their weight

It was so much fun to have Rebecca on the podcast this week. While rudeness may have negative connotations, we can harness it’s powers in a positive way. Happy listening and don’t forget to subscribe!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. Get your teen to think about if/what they ‘owe’ anyone on social media:

“What do you expect from other people in terms of your social media, and therefore what do you owe other people in terms of your usage of their social media? If somebody is screenshotting your stories and talking about it, do you feel okay about that? And if not, then why are you doing it to other people?”

-Rebecca Reid

2. Remind your teen that saying no is NOT rude:

(Members Only)

3. Let your teen know there’s a difference between being polite and being walked all over:

(Members Only)

4. Draw the line between positive and negative rudeness:

(Members Only)

5. Respect your teens new dietary boundaries, but remind them they need to be adults about it:

(Members Only)

6. When your teen is concerned about body changes, calm their anxiety with:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: The book is called Rude: Stop Being Nice and Start Being Bold, and it’s really fun to read. It’s got a lot of great stories from your life and from some famous historical figures and celebrities and really dives into your journey. I think this passage kind of sums it up pretty well. You say, “The last decade of my life has been a journey to deprogram myself, a mission to unlearn the messages I was taught as a child and teenager. With every year that passes, I become ruder. And it’s no coincidence that the ruder I get, the happier and more successful I become. Rudeness, I realize, is a talent and rather than shying away from it, I’m going to turn it into my own personal superpower.” So, what set you on this journey to reprogram yourself, and why do you think rudeness is your superpower?

Rebecca: So I think I had, on some level, been kind of trying to reprogram myself basically from the time that I turned 18, sort of those early adult years. But the tipping point was basically that I was doing a debate on TV, which was part of my job because I’m a journalist, I used to do a lot more of it than I do now. But basically I would go on TV and they would sit me next to somebody who thought the exact opposite, and then we would scream at each other for three and a half minutes. And nobody would change their mind and nobody would actually get a word in edgewise. I was so used to doing this, I was on with this guy who had been trying to wind me up when we were getting mic-ed up and going on set. He was kind of niggling at me, trying to get me to respond.

Rebecca: And eventually in this debate, they asked me a question. And he had already spoken quite a lot and it’s a really short time slot. And he started talking over me because I said something that had offended him and I started shushing him, like you would with a child. And I just absolutely lost my temper and went, “Shhh,” like that. And then I said something like, “We can both keep talking or I can talk, but I’m not going to stop talking.” And it was the first time in my life, I have been talked over a lot in my life, like a lot of women have, but it was the first time where I just saw red and I was like, “No. Sorry. Not happening anymore.” And then the British newspapers got very obsessed with it for about half an hour and it was on the Daily Mail and all those websites, they called me “Rebecca Rude.”

Rebecca: And I went and I had a conversation with my sister a couple months later, we were having a glass of wine, and I said, “You know, I’m really upset. I’m still upset about this. I’m not a rude person.” And she was like, “Well, you kind of are. You’re not nasty, you’re not a bad person. But you’re very direct, you’re very assertive. And that seems to be kind of why you get places in life.” And so I decided that rather than spending all my time worrying about being perceived as rude, I was just going to lean into it and see what happened.

Andy: And so, what happened?

Rebecca: So, generally speaking, my life got a lot better. Obviously, I wrote the book, which was great. So, I started the process by writing a diary of all the things I did in a day, either because I didn’t want to seem rude or I was worried about somebody thinking I was rude. And I realized that even though I was a relatively assertive person to start with, my days were just saturated with all this stuff about… I apologized for every email I sent. If I was 30 seconds late to a meeting, I would be abjectly apologetic. I would run up a flight of stairs as fast as I could if I thought someone was behind me so that they wouldn’t have to walk slower because I was there. If I was sitting on the tube, I would squeeze myself up to make myself as small as possible so I wasn’t taking up other people’s space.

Rebecca: And that’s from somebody who is kind of assertive, so for other people I think it’s even worse. And once I stopped doing that stuff, people responded better to me, I felt like I had more energy, I was happier, more confident. And yeah, I feel like I have a lot more of my life back from not worrying constantly about seeming rude.

Andy: Where does this come from, you talking here about research about the adolescent female brain? And there’s this kind of myth that girls mature faster than boys, what do you think about that?

Rebecca: Yeah. So, I think what happens is there is this myth that girls mature faster than boys. And we know, generally speaking, there is a little bit–women do sort of tend to stop puberty in a more comprehensive way earlier–but in terms of emotional maturity, it’s very hard to know how much is that women actually do become sort of emotionally mature faster, and how much of it is that we expect different behavioral standards of girls and of boys at different levels.

Rebecca: But we do know that from watching girls and boys in the playground, at school, et cetera, different behavioral standards are expected before puberty starts. Boys are generally expected to be energetic and rambunctious and outgoing and even aggressive, whereas girls are expected to play nicely and to share and to be sort of more “well-behaved,” in the classic term. And in reality, all children can be either of those things. Little boys can be sweet and good at sharing, and little girls can be aggressive and direct. And children should be raised with good expectations for their behavior consistently, not specific to their gender.

Rebecca: And I do think that parents probably do better now than they did when I was a child. I’m 30 so I was born in the 90s, and I think back then there really were different expectations of boys and girls. But then I worked in childcare in between 2013 and 2015 and I spent a lot of time sitting on the side of the playground watching kids play. And even then, I really did see a difference in the expectations, particularly in terms of aggression. I think girls are still expected to fight with their words, not what that hands, whereas boys are allowed that physical outlet. And while obviously I don’t condone physical violence, I think there’s a process that happens when you are allowed to play fight and fight safely as a child. I think it enables you to kind of grow into an adult who’s able to express themselves and their frustration, whereas girls miss that step. They are supposed to go straight from having these big feelings to knowing exactly how to deal with them immediately.

Andy: So, how does this play out as we get older and become teenagers in our friendships? You write that when you were a teenager you and your friend decided to break up, which is something that’s really uncommon. Tell me about that.

Rebecca: So, the dynamics of teenage girls and their friendships are really complicated. And I went to an all-girls school, which means that those relationships are even more intense, I think. So in my experience, because girls are not socialized to be actively aggressive, they tend to become passively aggressive, which tends to come out in terms of kind of gossiping, talking about each other behind each other’s backs, that kind of classic mean girls dynamic. And so when I was a teenager, one of the things that happened in order to try and avoid those dynamics, not that I avoided them completely, was that I was part of a friendship group of three and two of us decided that the friendship with the third wasn’t particularly healthy anymore. So we basically said, “I think we all need to stop. We need to take a step away from each other. We should effectively break up.”

Rebecca: And we were teenagers, we were very dramatic. We went out to lunch, we exchanged letters. It was all very intense. And looking back at it, I kind of cringe. But I do think that was the early beginnings of trying to express something negative in a positive way. And I think that we generally aren’t great at finding those ways to have difficult conversations because we don’t want to seem rude, we don’t want to seem unkind, we don’t want to seem ungenerous. But actually, it’s a lot less rude, if you really think about it, to say to somebody, “I’m not sure this friendship is working anymore,” than it is to continue being their friend for years while secretly hating them and possibly talking about them behind their back.

Andy: I feel like also that today’s teenagers are in such the generation of ghosting, where you just never really have that talk and say, “Hey, I don’t know if this is really working out. Maybe let’s put some distance between each other.” You just sort of stop talking to the person or start really turning down all their invitations and sort of just shutting down the communication a little bit. And so it actually strikes me that what you did was really cool because you brought closure to the relationship, instead of just sort of letting it fizzle out or sort of leaving it hanging. And that’s hard to do. And that’s something that a lot of teenagers today don’t do, and I think lack the skills to do.

Rebecca: I think what’s really difficult is that for teenagers now in the age of social media, so when I was a teenager we did have MySpace and Bebo and Facebook, so we did have the beginnings of it. But it was-

Andy: AOL instant messenger.

Rebecca: Exactly. And though I remember the problems that those presented, like “Do you delete somebody on Facebook when you stop being friends with them?” All of those things. But actually now, we have a slightly different relationship with social media where it’s normal to follow somebody on Instagram or on Snapchat or wherever else who is kind of your friend, but not intensely your friend. And I think it’s really difficult because it means that you have a view finder into other people’s lives even when they’re not your close friends. So actually ending a friendship for teenagers now is much harder because you are sort of still linked to that person on some level. And that’s really difficult.

Rebecca: And that’s why ghosting is so easy because you can still get as much information on that person as you want without actually having to interact with them. So, you can still go to school and be like, “Oh, my God. Did you see what she was wearing on her stories?” without actually having to ever interact with that person. And it’s really difficult. But I think a positive thing to encourage is to say to your teenager, “What do you expect from other people in terms of your social media, and therefore what do you owe other people in terms of your usage of their social media?” “If somebody is screenshotting your stories and talking about it, do you feel okay about that? And if not, then why are you doing it to other people?” And it’s fostering a new culture of respect.

Rebecca: And I think for parents, having been a nanny to teenagers in my mid-twenties, the thing that I think is really important is being willing to learn, being able to say to your daughters, “What is a streak on Snapchat? What are stories?” All of this stuff. It’s embarrassing, nobody wants to be the old person who doesn’t understand technology but actually if you’re going to have these conversations, you’ve got to do the legwork and say, “Look, I want to understand what this is.”

Andy: And I also think it helps to even try it a little bit yourself and be genuinely interested in it. Or asking. Teenagers don’t mind, they like being the expert and being able to share their knowledge with you. And so if you approach them in the right way about it where it doesn’t seem like you’re being negative, or like you’re going to try to get them in trouble about it but you’re genuinely interested in it, then a lot of times they’ll open up.

Rebecca: Yeah. And I really remember that confusing thing when you’re a teenager where you’ve gone from thinking your parents are the greatest people in the world to thinking they’re the worst people in the world. But you still on some level want their approval. And I think a really great way for your teenager to feel approved of is to engage with them. And when we talk about rudeness, I think different generations have completely different perceptions of what rudeness is.

Rebecca: And actually, I have family members who are older who think that everything on Facebook has been posted to them. They think that every single thing on their newsfeed is a direct message. So they think if they don’t reply to everything they are being rude. So, it’s really important. Whereas, if you are somebody who has a Snapchat streak going and you’re 450 days in and you ignore somebody’s message, that is the height of rudeness. Whereas, to me, if I didn’t reply somebody for a couple of days, “Eh, no big deal.” So I think it’s about having that conversation about what does positive rudeness and negative rudeness mean within your own life, because we all kind of operating in different stratas here and we’ve got to understand what the rules are in each other’s communities.

Andy: So, that’s cool. And that’s a theme that runs through the book, is that there are kind of two different types of rudeness: positive and negative rudeness. Can you walk through what those are? And maybe that’s something that would be good to have a conversation with your teenager about, kind of pointing out that some rudeness is good and some rudeness is bad and thinking about how to differentiate those.

Rebecca: So, the general explanation that I give in terms of positive and negative rudeness is that if you’re in a restaurant, if you click your fingers, for instance, at a waiter, that’s negative rudeness. That’s unacceptable, you can’t do that, that’s terrible. You shouldn’t date people who do that, that’s very unusual, but if somebody brings you a bowl of soup that’s completely cold, saying “Hi, I ordered soup. It was supposed to be hot. Could I please have it heated?” without apologizing, without saying “I’m so sorry. I’m probably just being fussy,” which is my natural instinct, but just to say, “Hi, this soup is cold. Could you reheat it, please?” So, it’s being firm and consistent in your messaging without feeling self-conscious.

Rebecca: And I think in terms of talking to your teenagers about it, it’s really important that you give your teenagers a sense that there are times when being really rude is really great. So, if somebody is touching your body in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable or isn’t something that you’re consenting to, then telling them, without worrying about their feelings, to stop touching you. You don’t have to sugarcoat it, you don’t have to be sweet about it. You can say, “Take your hands off my body.”

Rebecca: And similarly, if you’re placed in a situation if somebody is saying… The classic example with peer pressure is always drugs or smoking. And personally, I’ve always found that people don’t really want to share their drugs or cigarettes, so I’ve never actually had somebody being like, “Have one,” it’s more like, “Please, can I have one?” But if you do find yourself in a situation where you are being pressured into doing something that you aren’t–again, trying not to be rude is the main reason that we don’t say no to things–If somebody perceives you as rude, that is not a big deal. It’s not a bad thing. It could even be a good thing. You are allowed to say… A good example is I remember a friend of mine being at a friend’s house and eating meat even though she was a vegetarian. She said afterwards to me, she’d been raised that it was rude not to eat what was put in front of you.

Andy: Right. They spent a lot of time cooking it, “So nice of them to serve it to me…”

Rebecca: Exactly. And “they’ve gone to the effort.” And she hadn’t mentioned that she was vegetarian because she was a shy, young girl. And I think her parents had failed to equip her with the skills to say, “This is so kind of you. Thank you so much for cooking. But actually, I don’t eat meat, so I’m just going to eat the side dish,” or whatever. So, it’s telling your child, “I know I’ve raised you that good manners are important, but there are lots and lots and lots of exceptions to that rule. And here is how you approach it.”

Andy: So, then the downside of this is, then your kid is going to be rude to you.

Rebecca: So, I think if your kid is being rude to you, then they’re communicating with you and they are engaging with you. For me, the worst, and again, I have been a nanny but I haven’t had children myself. But for me, my experience is that if somebody is being rude to you, a) we need to talk about whether it’s positive or negative rudeness. Because it’s really important for teenagers to learn to kick out against your thing. So, I remember saying that I hated my parents’ taste in music, that I didn’t want to go to church, that I didn’t want to borrow my mom’s clothes. My mom has great clothes. It’s not that. And I didn’t actually hate church. I just wanted to kick out against their values because I was trying different things on. And that is a form of positive rudeness as long as it’s handled in a tactful way.

Andy: I see.

Rebecca: So saying, “Listen, I don’t want to go to church with you this weekend because I don’t know how I feel about that” is fine; swearing and slamming doors is not. But I would say any situation in which your teenager is communicating with you about their wants and needs, I think, is always a really great place to be. It’s when they’re silent and they’re freezing you out, that’s the kind of rudeness I would really struggle to cope with.

Andy: Yeah then it’s sometimes hard to tease out the two, but also I think that it starts at home. And it’s easy to feel insulted when your kid doesn’t want to come to church with you, and “Well, we do this every week and this is our tradition and this is what we believe in,” and it feels like kind of a slap in the face. So, recognizing that that’s actually maybe a positive thing, that you can have a conversation about, “Well, the way that you said it when you said, ‘Church is stupid and I hate it,’ that was really hurtful. Maybe there’s a better way that you could communicate that,” but allowing them to assert themselves in those kinds ways.

Rebecca: Yeah. And I think there’s a conversation to be had where you say to your child, “I think you’re still figuring out what the line is and what the good kind of rude and what the bad kind of rude it. I’m really proud that you feel able to say to me, ‘I don’t want to do X,’ or ‘I don’t want to do Y,’ but if you could express it like this, I would feel more comfortable and more receptive.” But I think you’re doing something right if your child feels safe to try these things out with you. You’re doing something wrong if your child is afraid to be rude to you because they think they’re going to get in trouble. That’s when something’s gone wrong. It’s 2021. I don’t think children should be afraid of their parents. I think that’s a very old-fashioned, outdated form of parenting.

Andy: Yeah. But also, then, I think there’s other strategies that we use to keep our kids in line, even like emotional manipulation, where our kid maybe doesn’t want to say those kinds of things because it will hurt our feelings. Or, some parents use, “Oh, but I spent so long cooking this,” and “Oh, you don’t want to eat some of it?” or any of those kinds of things. Instead of just discipline and yelling at the kid, we also use kind of more subtle tactics like that sometimes, I think, to send the same message, which is, “Well, that’s rude. Don’t do that.”

Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the problem is when you’re trying to unlearn your relationship with rudeness while trying to raise a child with a positive attitude towards rudeness, you’re trying to teach yourself and them at the same time, and that’s really hard. But again, this just goes back to having the conversation where you say, “I’m sorry that I yelled at you for not wanting to eat the Bolognese that I made. I spent a lot of time cooking and you did not tell me that you have become a vegan this week. I respect that it’s your right to choose what you put in your body, but you have a responsibility. If you’re going to make adult choices about what you eat, you have to act like an adult, which means informing me within good time and possibly offering to help on some of the cooking.”

Rebecca: I’ve always felt that the earlier you talk to a child like an adult, the earlier they will start to behave like an adult in response to you. And I think it’s the same as when you start cooking with your child, allowing them to actually use a knife under supervision, allowing them to touch meat, all of that stuff that people try and protect kids from. The more responsibility you give a child, the more responsible they will be. And rudeness is just another aspect of that. The more you trust them to make those choices, the better their choices will be.

About Rebecca Reid

Rebecca is the author of Rude and The Power of Rude. Former digital editor for Grazia magazine, she has a column for the Telegraph Women’s section, works for Metro Online and has written for Marie Claire, the Independent, the iPaper, The Guardian, Indy100, LOOK and the New Statesman among others.

Rebecca is a regular contributor to Sky News and ITV’s Good Morning Britain as well as appearing on This Morning, Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, LBC, Channel Five News, The World At One, and the BBC World Service to discuss her work. She graduated from Royal Holloway’s Creative Writing MA in 2015. Her debut thriller Perfect Liars was published in 2018, followed by Truth Hurts and Two Wrongs

She graduated from the University of Bristol with a BA in English & Drama in 2013 and from Royal Holloway’s Creative Writing MA in 2015. She lives in Kentish Town with her husband.

Rebecca lives in London with her husband.  She looks forward to a post-lockdown visit to her very cool parents.

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