6 Ways to Tame Your Teen’s Sass

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Six Ways to Tame Your Teen’s Sass

Written by: Marybeth Bock




Nearly every parent of teens has felt the brunt of their teen’s crummy attitude, language or behavior at one point or another. (Hooray for you if you haven’t!)

Even though we’ve been told by experts that this phase of our kids’ development is actually to be expected, it can still shock the heck out of us, make us feel hurt, frustrated and angry, and sometimes, if we’re being completely honest here, wondering where the heck we went wrong.

6 Ways to Tame Your Teen’s Sass


What’s Really Going on With Your Sassy Teen?

If your generally polite pre-teen or teen has suddenly started talking back to you, rolling their eyes with exaggerated dramatic sighs and groans, or copping an attitude for what seems like no reason at all, take comfort in knowing that their frustrating behavior is actually considered part and parcel of the pre-teen and teen years.

This is all part of your child’s growing-up process as they break away from you and start to become their own person.

The reality is, it’s just as tough on our kids as it is for us when they pull away and move toward adulthood. And, because they have underdeveloped problem-solving skills (thanks to the changes happening in their brains), they haven’t quite figured out how to gain their independence without those occasional dramatic (sassy) outbursts. Rather than gently pulling away with respect, their tug for independence rolls in like a freight train.

According to James Lehman, co-creator of The Total Transformation and Empowering Parents, “Your child’s rebellion likely has little to do with disrespect. In fact, the teenager next door is doing the same thing to his parents and your cousin’s daughter is doing the same thing to her parents. It’s what teenagers do. Your role is to deal with your child’s behavior as objectively as possible and not take it personally.”

The Center for Parenting Education states, “That’s not to say parents should ignore or allow rude or disrespectful behavior. What it means is that they should put on a thick skin and recognize that this is really more about what their child is going through and less about the parents themselves.”

Where Do You Draw the Line on Unacceptable Behavior? 

Knowing when to let their child’s sass slide and when to crack down is always a challenge for parents. But there are a few “golden rules” experts swear by.

Behavior You Can (and Should) Ignore

You can’t, nor should you, react to every snide look or remark your teen tosses your way. Do yourself (and your teen) a big favor and let some things slide.

According to Lehman, “It’s best if parents ignore the mildly disrespectful stuff their kids do. Things such as heavy sighing, eye rolls, stomping up the stairs and even the occasional slamming of the bedroom door.”

Oh, and the mumbling under their breath? “Man, I hate being told what to do. This is so unfair!” Let that go, too. Pre-teens and teens need to be given the freedom to express their feelings, opinions, and frustrations – even if they are in immature ways.

Disrespectful Behavior You Shouldn’t Ignore

“Make no mistake, when true disrespect is directed toward a specific parent or sibling and it’s demeaning or rude, it has to be dealt with immediately. If your child doesn’t see the line between mild rebelliousness and total disrespect, you need to talk with him/her,” says Lehman.

Here is something parents can say:

“Listen, there’s a line you’re crossing when you talk with us that we’re not going to tolerate. Name-calling, yelling, blaming are not acceptable in this house. If you continue to do it, I’m holding you accountable and there will be consequences. If you do it again, the consequence will be… (phone taken away for a few hours, loss of privileges including access to the car, additional chores at home, etc.)”

6 Ways to Tame Your Teen’s Sass

Here are some suggestions for dealing with disrespectful teen behavior.

1.  Draw The Line and Be Consistent

Whether you draw from your own upbringing or adopt your own parenting boundaries, every parent needs to draw a hard line in the sand and determine what they are and aren’t willing to tolerate under their roof. Maybe it’s swearing, yelling, blaming or flat-out disrespectful name-calling. Whatever that line is, consistency is key along with set consequences.

Even if you haven’t been adept at setting firm limits and consequences with your kids, it’s important to understand that you can decide to parent differently at any point. Sit down with your child and have an open, honest discussion about your new rules and consequences. Lay out, in detail, what you will not put up with going forward. Heads up, though… be prepared to dig your parenting heels in the ground since there’s a good chance your child will push back.

2. Remember, It’s About Them Not You

When you’ve had a long or hard day and your patience has worn thin, it’s easy to take your pre-teens or teen’s disrespectful language or attitude personally. They are frustrated and taking things out on you.

If you allow hurt or anger to get the best of you, there’s a greater chance you’ll get pulled into a power struggle, which you always want to try to avoid. If your child starts to push boundaries, stay calm and tell them you won’t tolerate their behavior. Then disengage and walk away. If their behavior warrants a consequence, explain why and follow through with as little emotion as possible. 

It can feel terrible to be the bad guy, but remember, your goal as a parent shouldn’t be for your child to like you. Your goal is for them to respect you as you guide them to become capable, respectful, honest adults.

3. Give Them The Look

I’m not sure there’s a child out there who doesn’t recognize the chilling “look” they get from their mom or dad when they’ve crossed the line. It usually consists of a head tilt and piercing (dagger throwing) eyes meant to stop nearly any child in their tracks.

With pre-teens and teens, sometimes, silence is golden. “The look” is the perfect approach to convey your disapproval without waging a full-out war. Most moms who have perfected “the look” consider it a hugely underused tool in a parent’s range of reactions to annoying behavior.

4. Offer Your Teen a Do-Over

When your child is frustrated, anxious, or stressed, they often lash out at you in a way they don’t intend to. Use a neutral voice and try offering them the opportunity to take a few deep breaths and try their response again, in a respectful manner. This shows them that you want to work with them, not against them.

Some helpful phrases to use are: 

“I’m going to let you try that one more time.” 

“I see you’re upset and didn’t mean to sound rude. Let’s talk like respectful adults.”

“Would you try telling me what’s bothering you in a way that makes it easier for me to listen?”

5. Model Respectful Behavior and Language

Kids naturally take their cues from what they see and hear us doing and saying. No matter how much time you spend talking to your kids about the importance of being respectful, if you speak harshly to your child or other family members or you yell or treat people in public with disrespect, there’s a good chance your child will, too. To tame your teen’s sass you have to remember, respect always begins at home.

6. Reconnect After Consequences

When your teen’s behavior results in them suffering a consequence, it’s natural for them to feel angry and/or resentful. After following through with the consequence, it’s best for both of you to take a break from each other and step back from the situation to offer you both a chance to calm down.

Later, make the effort to reconnect. Ask if your child wants to talk about what happened. Even if they choose not to discuss it, give them a hug or verbal confirmation to reinforce the idea that regardless of any conflicts you may have with them, it will never shake your unconditional love.

Changing the way you parent, setting boundaries, and taming your teen’s sass can be challenging, but it can happen at any time if you are willing to put in some work, remain consistent and follow through with consequences.


About Marybeth Bock:

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


If you enjoyed, “6 Ways to Tame Your Teen’s Sass,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy reading:

23 Things That Threw Me for a Loop When My Kids Became Teenagers

Why Your Teen Needs Hugs (Even if They’re Too Cool to Admit It)

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