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Health & Parenting

Stopping the Back Talk

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Establish a code

Let kids know they're nearing the disrespectful zone with some prearranged signal. This red flag gives them a clear warning that more-drastic action will follow if they don't stop what they're doing, and, in public, it also allows them to save face in front their friends, which makes them more likely to be compliant than if you had barked out a direct order. Carolina Fernandez, a mom of four in Ridgefield, CT, has a catchphrase she'd utter whenever her now-17-year-old daughter, Cristina, was giving her attitude. "I'd say, 'You won't get invited to the party if you talk like that,'" she explains. "There never was a party; it was just my way of saying she'd be excluded from any family fun if she couldn't behave."

Don't shoot back

I'll admit that my knee-jerk response to a cutting comment is often to toss a zinger right back at the offending child so she'll see how it feels. Not the best move, says Borba, because it condones the behavior. "Bite your tongue, stay calm, and refuse to engage with them on that level," she says. "Teens are sensitive, and you can wound them with comebacks and thereby escalate the conflict. It's better to model responding in a non-sarcastic way."

If you can't squelch your temper, follow Hicks's plan and call a family meeting to discuss the sass when everyone is calmer. Her smart strategy: Sticking to "I" statements so her kids don't get defensive and tune her out. "Rather than, 'You're rude,' I'll say, 'I've been lax; by letting you talk down to me, I haven't been standing up for my self-respect.'" This reminds kids that you've got feelings, too.

Bring out the heavy artillery

Sure, sarcasm may not be the worst offense a teen can commit, but that doesn't mean he can break the no — back talk rule with impunity. If your child isn't responding to the gentle methods above, step up your response. Follow the Parenting 101 law you've used since he was a toddler: Spell out the consequences of breaking the rule beforehand, and make sure that you can (and do) follow through. Here's how Chris Crytzer, of Pittsburgh, deals with unrepentant smart aleckism from her kids, Justin, 14, and Kirsten, 11: "If it's severe enough, I'll take away the computer, TV, and video games at the same time. It really works."

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