What can I do about all the disgusted looks, rolling eyes and “Yeah, rights” or “Whatevers” I get from my two teens? They’re not really all that verbally disrespectful, but their attitude can be pretty surly.

Sometimes I will ask my clients: What would your mother have done had you given her the attitude your son or daughter gives you? What has happened in a few short generations that our kids react to us far more unpleasantly than most of us did to our parents?

One major factor is the experts and their theories. Parents today are bathed in the enlightened notion that teens are just “naturally” difficult in words and look. It’s part of their healthy psychological development. Furthermore, they need to be allowed to express themselves, lest the parent-child relationship suffer from stunted communication. To hear what a child is really feeling, you need to be willing to absorb some nastiness.

Let’s put this “expressing feelings” idea to a reality test. For the next three weeks, every time your boss, your best friend or your pastor says or does something you find disagreeable, sigh deeply, roll your eyes, and mumble, “Yeah, right.” After three weeks, ask, “Do you still like me?” See if they answer something like, “I sure do appreciate seeing your authentic self come out with me so often. It’s great to always know what you think.”

Yeah, right.

A disdainful or surly attitude may be an expression of momentary feelings, but it is also quite disrespectful. Kids should be allowed to tell us how they think and feel, provided it’s done respectfully.

There is nothing inherently psychologically healthy in being able to routinely mistreat anyone — even your parents, even if you’re a teen, even if you’re not all that verbally disrespectful.

Which brings us to another observation. You may be getting lulled into a misguided tolerance for mistreatment. Because your teens are not “all that disrespectful,” you’ve allowed “lesser” forms of negative self-expression. After all, aren’t teens just that way? Shouldn’t you overlook some attitude?

Why? How have we come to permit nastiness from kids just because it’s not as nasty as it could be? I guess using this logic, we could permit verbal snottiness, as it is not as bad as cursing at us.

Respect is a package. It has verbal and nonverbal components. I would strongly suggest that, to reduce your teens’ “snottitude,” take a zero-tolerance approach. Permit none of it. Discipline it. How about one hour worth of labor per look? A 500-word essay about why you are indeed right for every, “Yeah right.” Look up, define, and use in a sentence 10 synonyms for each “Whatever.”

Surly attitude quickly becomes a habit. It takes on a life of its own. And the little stuff lays a base of temptations to use the bigger stuff. Stop it all. You’ll feel a whole lot better, and your kids will be a whole lot nicer.

You don’t agree? Oh, puh-lease. Get real.

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