“This generation’s youth are just so disrespectful. I don’t understand why.” We’ve all heard comments like this and have possibly even said them ourselves. Frankly, if you’re looking for yet another article on how terrible kids today are or how this generation is to blame for the lack of respect in our culture, you won’t find it here. In fact, what you will find is an candid discussion and challenge for adults, parents, and educators.
Can we honestly blame the kids growing up in any generation for a lack of respect if we, as the older generations responsible for teaching them, aren’t doing our part? Children are not born knowing and understanding respect. How else will they learn if not from us?
As a youth worker, my job is not only to care for the children but also for their families. That means I’ve been witness to countless parent-child interactions, both good and bad. Here are a few things I’ve learned about kids and respect.
Praise and reaffirm your child. Help the child focus on his or her strengths as an individual, instead of being so quick to point out his shortcomings. A kid who is taught his own worth learns how to respect himself and others around him. No one can truly show respect for others until they first learn to recognize and appreciate their own value. Also, a child who respects himself, is more likely to stand up for himself and walk away from situations where others are doing things he knows are wrong.
Respect goes both ways. If you want to teach a child to respect you and any boundaries you have established (such as knocking before entering a room when the door’s closed or not telling embarrassing stories about you in public), show the same respect to the child. Kids mirror the respect they receive. If you treat a kid like a second-class citizen, he will behave like one, and most likely, treat you the same way.
I once had a parent tell me, “My son shows me no respect. Have you seen how rude he is to me?” Truthfully, yes, I had. I had also watched her disregard her teenage son’s attempt to tell a story by interrupting him repeatedly to comment on his messy eating habits (thanks to the pizza sauce on his shirt), run her hands through his hair to try and fix it, and then rudely start a new conversation she deemed more interesting. Oh, and let’s not leave out that she did all of this while using his embarrassing childhood nickname (“Boo-Boo”) in front of his friends. She completely humiliated him, yet she was supposed to be his role model. Is really any wonder he didn’t show her any greater respect than she showed him?
Honesty and sincerity foster respect. Kids are equipped with a built-in “phony radar” and can usually spot an insincere adult right away. When you talk to a child, don’t talk in half-truths. They may be younger and shorter, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. It’s simple. If kids think you are not being truthful or genuine with them, you will not get their trust or respect. Who can blame them? Set aside the obvious age difference for a moment and ask yourself: Would I respect someone I thought was lying to me?
If you do make a mistake, don’t hide it or deny it. Instead, apologize and be honest about it. Of course, the amount of details you provide will depend on how much you feel the child can handle. Kids learn a valuable lesson from discovering parents and other adults aren’t perfect either, and your honesty teaches the child a great deal about how to show respect.
If you listen, they will too. I don’t mean letting the child talk to you while you fiddle with your cell phone, hustle around the house multi-tasking, or replay a discussion you had with coworker earlier that day. Pay attention. Listen to what the child says and how she says it.
When we want younger children to focus on what’s being said, most adults will demand they look at them while they talk. It shows you have their attention. How many of us return the favor when a child or teenager has something to say to us? Do you stop and listen, or continue with what you’re doing? Yes, we’re all busy, but it only takes a few minutes to show a child you’re interested in what he or she has to say.
A parent of a teenage girl in my youth group once asked me, “Why can you say the same thing to my daughter as I do, and she ignores me and listens to you?” My response was simply, “Because I listen to her.” Show a kid she is worth listening to, and you’ll be amazed at how well she is willing to listen to you.
Teaching kids about respect goes much deeper than telling them not to talk back to adults and always say “Sir” and “Ma’am”. Granted, those behaviors are excellent ways to show respect for their elders and should also be stressed. True respect that is earned and reciprocated, however, goes beyond the niceties and stays with the child even when they grow up.
I’ve worked with kids long enough to know not every child reacts the same to teaching, and at different times in their lives, kids will test their boundaries with adults. Don’t give up. Teaching a child about respect helps her learn how to be a positive part of society and how to build healthy, meaningful relationships in life. True respect for self and others is a powerful tool.
Author’s personal experience, over 15 years experience as a youth worker for children ranging from ages 2-18
Jennifer Shakeel, “Teaching Children Respect” by More4Kids
“Respect – A Way of Life”, Children, Youth and Women’s Health Services