It is hard to phrase this question, as it is an psychologically oblique problem.

My teenage son will often ask questions or make glib observations about things, he already knows the answer to, or understand at a deeper level. He does this to get attention and to get a reaction from me.

Now the attention part is easier to address. Obviously, he needs more of my undivided attention.

It's the getting a reaction from me that's not so easy. As a parent, a human being, I get worn down and my reserves of patience can become emptied, and so I snap or react. In this case I react, because I know he is intelligent and provoking me.

The essence of this question is not so much, how to change my behaviour (which is always a must), but

It's a more sophisticated version of knowing a small child is lying about eating the chocolate cake and their face is covered in chocolate cake, but in this case the evidence is intangible, it is the knowledge I have of his knowledge ! (that sounds wrong ! lol)

Does anybody have some good techniques for handling teenagers "playing dumb" about things?
How can I get the best from my son, in terms of communicating intelligently and insightfully, rather than in a potentially destructive way of asking and making inane observations?

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    I can relate how it must be infuriating, and how difficult can be to control one's temper. I don't have teens myself (yet...!) but what happens if you let them simmer in their hints? If you refuse to give them the reaction they expect, but rather reply with "I think you know the right answer" or "what do *you think* would be smart to do about that" or even "what would *you* like me to do/say about this?" Oct 7, 2013 at 9:32

2 Answers 2


I taught high school for years and teenagers are just notorious for this kind of thing, and you are absolutely right that it is the exact same thing as a kid getting his/her hand caught in the cookie jar and lying to your face about it even as they hold the evidence in their hand. It never bothered me, per se (trust me, idiocy in teenagers really was the least of my concerns) as I had the policy of, "You want to be treated like an adult so I'm going to expect you to behave mostly like one" because, in their heart-of-hearts, teenagers think they want to be treated like an adult--mostly because they don't really know what being an adult really entails. Usually when I encountered stupid statements like this, I'd just look at them for a moment and then reply with, "You know the answer to that" or "Why don't you tell me?". By stopping and looking at them, usually making eye contact, they have my undivided attention for a minute and by asking them the question I force them to think for themselves. Then, if they really don't know the answer you'll know and you can work on it. Or you can pause and then ask, "What is this really about?" which will shock any teenager because half the time they have zero idea why they do things--they just do and say stuff. Asking one to think metacognitively about their own motivations for doing something is mind-boggling to them at first, but an important skill they need to eventually develop anyway. It also allows you to (hopefully) get the root of the matter without having to play the constant adolescent guessing-game that teenagers like to put the adults in their lives through.

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    That is brilliant! Yes I suspect teenagers protest that they want to be treated as adults, but secretly often want to be treated like children. It's a real push me pull you time.
    – user21179
    Oct 7, 2013 at 18:29
  • they have zero idea why they do things--they just do and say stuff - brilliant, thanks for making me smile :-) Oct 10, 2013 at 11:36

What worked well for my Mom when I was a smart-aleck teenager was to respond with a deadpan "Ha Ha Haaa." It was her shorthand signal meaning, "I acknowledge you were being clever and trying to get a reaction out of me, but I'm onto you and I'm not going to fall for it."

What worked well for my Dad was dishing it right back, but that requires a certain personality to pull off, and you have to be careful not to take it too far.

Mostly any reaction will do as long as you don't fall for it. When you cease to provide the reaction, the game ceases to be fun.

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