Kids use sarcasm for lots of different reasons. Sometimes it is intended for humor, but often it's more offensive and hurtful than amusing. In other instances, teens speak sarcastically because they are unwilling or unable to directly communicate their feelings.

After an argument about getting a cell phone, 11-year-old Melissa ended the discussion by proclaiming to her parents, "Yeah, you guys really do have lots of trust in me," and then she walked away.

Melissa was feeling just the opposite, but she didn't have the assertiveness or verbal sophistication to explain her real feelings to her parents.

The fact that such behavior is common doesn't make it acceptable. You can stop sarcasm in your child by following these three steps, according to child psychologist Gregory Ramey:

Establish clear rules. Make it clear that sarcasm, insults and disrespect are not allowed in your family. You'll need to be specific with your children about exactly what that means. Give lots of examples of expressions that are not allowed. Also, discuss with your children how such language can be hurtful to people and is a poor way to communicate.

Enforce your rules. Lots of parents have rules, but few have consistent consequences. If you want to create an atmosphere of positive communication in your family, you have to take action when your children speak in offensive ways. Repeated offenses might result in restricting television, computer or cell-phone use or something else that is important to your child.

Teach alternatives. You can't punish away cynicism and insults. These behaviors are symptoms of kids who don't know how to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Here's the best way to teach kids these skills: Ask lots of open-ended questions to provoke discussion. Don't let this degenerate into an interrogation of your child. You'll need to be willing to share your thoughts, as well. This should begin when your child is 3, not 13.