Dealing With A Disrespectful Daughter: 8, 16, 21 Years Old


When parents first hear news they’re having a daughter visions of pink bows, tea parties, and father-daughter dances fill the mind. However, reality sets in for many of us with our dear daughter’s first disrespectful eye roll. So when you find yourself dealing with a disrespectful daughter of 8, 16, or even 21 years old, it’s important to know what to do.

Dealing with a disrespectful daughter is a matter of owning your position as their parent. First determine if the disrespect is due to anger, an underdeveloped brain, or modern trends to disguise disrespect as ‘girl power’. Then as the adult and parent, address the disrespect directly and clearly.

Not only have I taught countless ‘daughters’ from many years of public school teaching, but I’ve been a mom to a daughter since 1999. I also now have a daughter-in-law. My husband has taught martial arts to literally thousands of little girls. Let me share what we learned about disrespectful children, particularly daughters, along our journey.

How To Deal With An Ungrateful Daughter

Surprising to some, disrespect can take the form of ungratefulness. So what do you do when your daughter displays this unbecoming behavior towards you or others?

The way to deal with an ungrateful daughter is through immediate targeted action. First, teach your daughter why ungrateful behavior is disrespectful. Then explain an appropriate response when she’s unhappy or disappointed, often reasons for ungrateful displays.

Many times daughters act ungratefully simply because they didn’t get their way. That might mean you said no to upgrading their cell phone or that your idea of a family vacation spot wasn’t tops on their list. Regardless, being ungrateful is a sure example of disrespect. And as such, it needs to be corrected.

The key to ungratefulness is not focusing on how they are less than for showing these traits, we all do it at times. The ‘ninja tip’ as my husband would call it is to focus on making her better. Sometimes the intention we use to do something is just as important as the action that comes from it.

She and the people in her future life will thank you for putting in the effort to make her a better person.

If you are consistent in addressing ungratefulness when it appears, you will have more success in stopping it altogether. It takes consistency in pointing it out and explaining a more appropriate response to help your daughter recognize this unwanted tendency and how to self-monitor.

There is never a case when it is okay to pretend you didn’t hear the ungratefulness in a response or see it in an action. You have to act every time, and only then will those times become fewer and farther between.

How Do You Respond To A Disrespectful Young Daughter

Unfortunately, disrespectful behavior begins earlier and earlier as modern media, commercialism, and changing societal mores create an atmosphere that promotes it. So, how do you respond to a disrespectful young or younger daughter?

Responding to a disrespectful young daughter is similar to how you should respond to a daughter of any age acting disrespectfully. But keep in mind that the younger your daughter is, such as a daughter 8-10 years old, the more clear and concise your explanation and correction should be.

What this means is that they will not catch on to underlying meanings in our words and actions like teens or adults do. Sometimes it is softer to put ‘lessons’ this way to older children or adults, but for younger kids, it simply gets missed or lost in translation.

Now anyone with children know that the terrible twos (and for that matter, the frightful fours) have plenty of episodes of disrespect. However, this is different from the more willful, deliberate disrespect that pops up from your 8 year old, or 10 year old. Their disrespect is what I’m addressing here.

When your 8-year-old daughter acts disrespectfully, you should respond right away and in no uncertain terms. A child of this age needs to be corrected simply, using age-appropriate vocabulary so that there is full comprehension.

As well, if possible, provide a redirect or example of how she should have reacted instead. Providing concrete examples is helpful for a child of this age and cognitive level.

For us, our daughter exhibited disrespect during these pre-adolescent years in subtle ways, yet still testing the boundaries. For example, when she was supposed to clean her bedroom or bathroom, she wouldn’t always follow through.

It wasn’t like she didn’t know to do it, either. It was simply ignoring the request from us and that was a form of disrespect at this age. And all it took was a stern reminder about doing what was asked and she would feel remorse.

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Why Is My Teenage Girl So Angry?

Parenting can feel overwhelming from time to time for everyone, but when a parent has an angry teenager, it can escalate beyond the typical.

Even if you’re successful in dealing with a younger daughter acting disrespectfully, it’s likely the behavior will resurface during teen years, especially during bouts of anger. This might lead you to wondering ‘why is my teenage girl so angry?’

According to research, teenage girls in particular are prone to anger because they experience a surge of hormones during puberty. Another reason for anger common to all teens, is an underdeveloped brain. This limits ability to control impulses and emotional outbursts manifesting as anger.

Dr. Jay Giedd is a renowned researcher of the teen brain, conducting years of studies for Johns Hopkins and other notable institutions. His research has shown that teen behavior is not just about raging hormones, although teens do experience hormonal surges and imbalances throughout puberty, but also is subjected to a brain with limited controls.

 “It’s sort of unfair to expect them to have adult levels of organizational skills or decision making before their brain is finished being built.”

Dr. Giedd

In addition to disorganization and problem-solving issues, teens are likely to experience a multitude of emotional outbursts. These outbursts coupled with impulse limitations often result in what looks like an angry teenager! But it’s not just a teenager who is affected!

In fact, Dr. Giedd says the structural changes in brain matter (meaning the underdevelopment of the brain) continue for most people up to age 25! And we’ll tackle this in the next section.

How To Deal With A Disrespectful Grown Daughter (21 Years Old)

Dealing with a disrespectful adult child or grown daughter is especially tricky. By this point, daughters feel like they’ve earned adult privileges, which means to them, they don’t have to listen to you. So what should you do?

The way to deal with a disrespectful grown daughter, such as a 21 year old, is to parent them, just like you would a disrespectful teen. If a grown daughter acts disrespectfully like a child, then she should continue to be treated like one despite reaching what’s considered the age of adulthood.

One common reason grown daughters act disrespectfully to their parents is because of a deluded sense of complete independence from their family.

Today’s familiar message to teen girls and young women entering adulthood is that they need to exert their ‘girl power’ and not stay dependent upon their parents. This has been an excuse by some daughters to be rude and disrespectful to those who love them.

For example, oftentimes this is shown by grown daughters who repeatedly choose to spend time with ‘friends’ over maintaining a relationship with family, especially after moving away from ‘home’ for college.

Telling girls and young women at this age that all of those friends they think are so important now will not be there is just a few short years is usually met with eye rolls. They are thinking about ‘present them’, and ‘future them’ is not even a consideration.

Unfortunately, I know all too well about this version of disrespect. As parents, we’ve endured our 21-year-old daughter electing to go on friends vacations rather than spend Christmas and other holidays with us, much to our disappointment.

So what did we do? Well, just as explained above, we responded like parents. When your child continually rebuffs your support, ignores texts, doesn’t return phone calls…all demonstrations of disrespect, you must address it clearly and directly. What’s the worst that could happen? She won’t return your phone call? Hmmm.

We told her in no uncertain terms that she was devaluing the one thing that matters most… family. Did she like us being frank with her? Nope.

But we had to do this same thing with our son as well and now he calls sometimes a couple times per week and is bending over backwards to have me come out and stay with him for a few weeks.

A counterexample of modern media’s ‘girl power/disrespectful girl’ trend is Anne of Green Gables (linked here to Amazon and also available free with a new Audible subscription). The character, Anne, is a prime example of a precocious, spunky, curious, nontraditional literary heroine that all parents should introduce to their daughters.

Every girl I’ve ever known, this one included, who’s read ‘Anne’ gobble up the series. Yet, Anne doesn’t resort to disrespect just to prove she’s intellectually strong and capable.

Anne of Green Gables collector set of DVDs are also available on Amazon.

Anne’s willful spirit makes her story fun for girls to read. As well, Anne is permitted to be strong, smart, and daring, while also maintaining good manners and behavior toward adults, whether it’s her foster parents, teachers, or others (now this doesn’t include her actions toward annoying classmates, of course!).

This is a critical distinction from a lot of modern-day ‘girl’ books, tv shows, and movies. And I think important to note when addressing today’s all to prevalent equation of independence and disrespect. For this reason, I continue to recommend the series (both book and film) to parents of daughters!

Anne is a character I tried to introduce to many little girls in my decades of teaching. No character or person is perfect, but they should all at least point in the general direction.

Disrespectful ‘Other Daughters’

There isn’t just one kind of daughter and that means there’s other opportunities to encounter disrespect. How should you handle disrespectful stepdaughters and daughters-in-law?

Like with daughters raised from birth, the way to handle disrespectful stepdaughters and daughters-in-law is to be direct and clear when addressing actions. However, this is after a meaningful relationship has been established, which may take time under the special circumstances.

Thus, handling ‘other daughters’ who behave disrespectfully is both similar and different than dealing with disrespectful daughters who were primarily parented by you.

For instance, it may seem unnatural even to expect so much out of an ‘in-law’ relationship. Deborah M. Merrill, Associate Professor of Sociology at Clark University, writes about this in depth in her book, Mothers-in-law and Daughters-in-law: Understanding the Relationship and what Makes Them Friends Or Foe (available using the Amazon link).

Merrill explains that it is “so hard” for mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law to form a positive relationship quickly because there is not a shared history nor an unconditional love as is typical in familial relationships.

Stepdaughters Challenge Parenting Roles Through Disrespect

It is a frequent concern of step parents that their stepdaughters act out and disrespect them, commonly by not following rules, adhering to boundaries, and respecting property.

Much of this comes from a non familiar adult taking on the role of parent and guide. This usually isn’t a problem if she gets what she wants and everything is running smoothly.

Respect for the role as parent becomes abandoned by some step-daughters when a step-parent tries to enforce a boundary. The struggle is essentially one of disrespect.

A defiant stepdaughter is not respecting the ability of an adult in the role as their guardian to enforce a boundary. The issue is with the child not acknowledging authority, experience, or position.

Here are some suggestions for step parents with disrespectful stepdaughters.

  • Spend time developing a positive relationship with your stepdaughter.
  • Talk calmly.
  • Be clear and firm with requests. It’s not helpful to be wishy-washy.
  • Set simple and reasonable boundaries.
  • Be consistent with expectations and enforcement.
  • Demonstrate respectful behavior by acting justly with other adults always.

Dealing with Disrespectful Daughters-in-Law

Just like with stepdaughters, forming a relationship with your daughter-in-law is primary for establishing respectful interactions. It should go without saying that the best way to start is by acting respectfully yourself.

Treating your daughter-in-law with respect should be obvious, but for some, that might not be the case, especially if you got off on the wrong foot with your daughter-in-law initiating disrespect first. Reciprocating unkindly won’t help, but neither will ignoring the behavior. Don’t do that!

More than likely, your daughter-in-law is still trying to figure out how to be a wife, mother, and daughter in a new family environment all at once. When dealing with them, come from the position of experience, but also of compassion for their struggles.

They will make mistakes, but so did we all.

Some suggestions for dealing with a disrespectful daughter-in-law are:

  • Include your son-in-law from the beginning in the exchanges.
  • Communicate calmly and clearly.
  • Ask questions because this may be key to figuring out the root of the disrespectful behavior.
  • Be willing to start over, or extend an olive branch.
  • Limit time together to short spans before spending whole days (or longer) together; this is to create a get-to-know you time.
  • Assert your position as an experienced parent, but be ready to let her make her own mistakes.

The Takeaway of Disrespectful Daughters

Being disrespected should not be a part of your daily routine. As teachers and moms, sometimes we take it so much that it becomes the norm, but that should not be the case. If you find yourself in this negative dynamic, I urge you to put to use the suggestions and tips here to put a stop to this, pronto.

To recap dealing with disrespectful daughters, you should know that:

  • There are similarities for handling disrespectful daughters whether 8, 16, or 21 years old.
  • Concrete examples and redirection work well when dealing with disrespectful 8-year-old daughters.
  • Teen girls often result to disrespect during bouts of anger. Work on the reasons for anger in order to deal with the emotional outbursts of disrespectful behavior.
  • Often adult/grown daughters fall victim to modern messages of ‘girl power’ that use independence as an excuse to be disrespectful to parents and other family members.
  • Special cases of stepdaughters and daughters-in-law require a somewhat different approach for dealing with disrespect.
  • And finally, addressing the ‘why’ is just as significant as the ‘what’ when it comes to dealing with disrespect effectively.

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Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a Catholic mother of four, grandmother ("Oma") to two, and wife to Mat since 1994. She is a former public school teacher of 18 years, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she also taught education courses online as an adjunct professor, mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, as well as homeschooled.

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