Stop that Sass! The Dreaded Eye-Roll (and Other Disrespectful Forms of Communication)

By: Tricia Cornell

We’ve all done it. Our eyes roll up into our eyelids; we curl the corners of our mouths—maybe we even let out a little snort. It’s the dreaded eye-roll, and it’s the ultimate sassy retort. Chances are, we’ve also seen our tweens and teens do it. Maybe their versions include a shoulder shrug or an under-the-breath mutter, “Whatever,” or “Yeah, right,” or some other creatively sarcastic reply. Read more >

It’s rude. It’s frustrating. And for many parents, it presses some buttons and makes it hard to reply calmly. But rolled eyes and sarcastic responses are also good opportunities to talk to our kids about family expectations, respect, and how to communicate more effectively. Try these three steps to help you stop the sass in your own household.

1. Look inward. Think about the times when you have been tempted to roll your eyes or make a sassy retort. Is it when someone says or does something you find frustrating, yet you can’t quite put it in words why you find it frustrating? Is it when you feel powerless to change something, but want to make it clear that you don’t approve? Is it when you feel like no one is listening to you?

2. Notice. Now that you’ve taken the time to reflect on what can trigger your own sassy behavior reflex, think about how your teen might be feeling. When he starts being disrespectful, stop what you’re doing and pay attention. Really pay attention, and find out what it is he’s trying to say.

3. Voice your concern. Keep it light. Your tone doesn’t have to be harsh. Your message should be, “We don’t talk to each other that way in our family.” In some families, mirroring the behavior back at the teen — with a playful eye roll or shrug of your own — can get the message across. In others, a lighthearted, “Ouch! That hurts!” can do the trick.

Talking Tips:

  • Encourage precise communication. Your child has something to say, so make sure you get a chance to hear what it is. Ask her, “What is it that’s bothering you?” or “Do you have another suggestion? I’d love to hear it.”
  • Watch your own communication. We are our children’s first and most effective teachers, even when we are at our worst. If you have some disrespectful communication habits like eye rolling — and most of us do — pay attention and pledge to make a change. Talk with your teen or tween and say, “I’m going to make an effort to be more respectful, and I want you to help me do that.”
  • Be consistent. We all get confused when the rules keep changing. If eye rolling is a punishable offense one day and gets a pass the next, your tween or teen won’t know what to think. Set clear expectations for how your family communicates with each other.

And the next time you hear yourself start to say, “Whatever…” Stop. Smile. And think about who’s watching and listening.

1. Peter C. Scales and Nancy Leffert, Developmental Assets: A Synthesis of the Scientific Research on Adolescent Development (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 2004).

2. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


I really like your ideas. I usually am a little more on the strict side as I feel that teenagers are way too disrespectful these days. It may be fine for your child to show their frustration to you in this manner at home but we are training them to be adults. Try acting like that to your boss and see if he or she takes a moment to reflect what you could be feeling that made you roll your eyes at them. Overall though I think the advice is solid. The consistency part is harder for most parents as there are so many things we are trying to teach our kids all at once. Thank you for the advice.

Cindi Ford


These really are some great tips. There are so many ways that teens can get under the skin of parents and they do it on purpose. If we let them know that it angers us then we lose but if we try to shift them in the right direction then things are better.



Teenagers do all kinds of rushing things to irritate their parents and they try as hard as they can because it’s almost like a law of becoming a teen.


Your three steps with links included are so helpful. Successful family communication happens when parents are aware of normal teen behavior and when open, respectful discussions have taken place throughout the years. For children, ages 3 to 9, parents can use the Kelly Bear Feelings book to practice listening skills that will serve to enhance their parent-child relationship. See the Kelly Bear website, resources, books, for sample pages.

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