Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Parenting

Font Size

Stopping the Back Talk

WebMD Commentary from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Charlotte Latvala
Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo
If your child is dishing out the eye rolling and "what-evers," here's how to respond — for both your sakes

The other night I walked into the kitchen, where my 13-year-old daughter was hunched over her geometry book. "Doing homework, sweetie?" I asked, innocently enough. Mathilda looked up, rolled her eyes, and in a voice dripping with sarcasm said, "No, Mom, I just love reading about tessellations in my spare time — what do you think?" A long discussion followed — or, rather, a pointed lecture about respect (on my part), and a halfhearted apology (on hers). Case closed. Sort of.

Generally, my daughter is a kind and thoughtful kid — but like every other teenager I know, she has bouts of back talking, i.e., making snide comments, indulging in disdainful sneers, muttering under her breath. I know, I know — compared to drinking, doing drugs, or having sex, speaking like a character from Juno seems like relatively benign behavior. But that doesn't make it palatable — and is it really so harmless? Will today's snippy teens be tomorrow's ineffective communicators, trying to settle disputes with a "whatever, dude" attitude?

Experts and moms agree that kids circa 2009 dole out the back talk more than ever before and at younger ages. Laid-back parenting may be partly to blame, but TV, movies, music, and the ubiquitous YouTube are all powerful influences, says media expert Kathryn Montgomery, Ph.D., author of Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet. "Children are growing up in a universe of pervasive, 24/7 media," she says. "And the notion of good taste that used to govern the Big Three networks has fallen by the wayside." Dialogue is ruder than ever: Our TV role models were Cindy Brady and Laurie Partridge; today's teens grew up with the Rugrats' acid-tongued Angelica.

As a mild, relatively safe form of rebellion, back talk appeals to teens' desire to feel independent and adult. Annoying though it may be, sarcasm reflects their growing mental capabilities. "There are several cognitive leaps during early adolescence that mean kids' thinking becomes much more sophisticated," says Maureen O'Brien, Ph.D., who is the founder of and a mom to 15-year-old twin boys. During tween years, kids move from straightforward, literal speech to irony and wordplay; making snide observations lets them feel smart and grown-up.

Some moms are tempted to overlook smart-mouthed behavior, figuring that it's an inevitable part of growing up. But you may wind up regretting the path of least resistance, says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of Don't Give Me That Attitude! "Yes, it's a normal phase," she explains. "But the tween and teen years are when your kid forms habits and attitudes that will last for a lifetime, and when you ignore smart-aleck talk, you send the message that it's OK." What's more, not being able to turn off the snark can have a negative impact on your kid's future. Unless you spell it out, teens may not have a clue about how they come across: "And as children get older, sarcasm can be a real turnoff to teachers, employers, and other adults outside the family," Borba adds. Read on for guidelines on how to tweak your resident smart mouth back into a sweet talker.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
mother and daughter talking
child brushing his teeth
Sipping hot tea
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
rl with friends
tissue box
Child with adhd