What’s the big deal about teaching children respect?

Exodus 20:12, Honor your father and your mother…

Scenario #1 – As I sat on the football field this weekend watching my youngest’s team play football, I noticed an interaction between another mother and son.  It was something I’ve seen happen many times.  Too many.

It’s halftime, and Mom notices her tween son might be thirsty, so she jumps up and begins walking toward her son with a bottle of Gatorade.  He meets her more than halfway and, in front of all of the other parents of both teams, he chastises her to stay off of the field.  She quickly submits to his request and retreats off of the field with subservient speed.

As she holds out the Gatorade and tells him she thought he might be thirsty, he snaps, Where’s my water.  I wanted water.

Oh, your dad is supposed to bring that but he isn’t here yet, she says smiling.

I wanted water, he demands.

Okay.  I’m sure he’ll be here soon.  Would you like some Gatorade for now? she asks, looking longingly at him.

Pfft, he said with obvious disapproval.  He snatched the bottle out of her hand and walked away.

Have fun! she called to him as she sheepishly smiled at the parents sitting nearby and took her seat.

I wanted to say to him, Go thank you mother.  You never said, please, or thanks for the Gatorade, or I appreciate it.  Nothing.  Zippo.  It was the same attitude of entitlement and disrespect that is so common no one bats an eye anymore.

Whose fault is it?  Parent or child?  My opinion is that it’s both – at least at this age.  What happened to a society where children honored their fathers and mothers?  Where bare-bones politeness was common courtesy.  Where parents received respect for the little and big things they did for their children.

Okay.  Pause.  I am not addressing abusive or neglectful parents. I am not talking about dysfunctional homes (though many are in some manner) or anything that needs professional help.  I’m talking about every day moments in life when who the person really is on the inside shows on the outside.

Scenario #2 – I was at the dentist office waiting for my child’s checkup to finish.  It’s a very kid-friendly place and has all kinds of things to do to keep little ones entertained while older siblings have their appointment.  A little girl, no older than four, quietly played with the office’s toys.  Mom and Dad watched nearby.  It was time to go back to see the older sibling, and so the dad asked his young daughter to pick up the toys she had taken out.  She just stood there and stared at him.  Then ignored him.  He repeated his request.  This time she said, No.  He asked her a third time, and she simply turned around and walked away with the mom and left Dad and the toys behind.

I was very curious how he would respond and held my breath as he stood there looking at the mess she had made.  I said (to him) to myself, Don’t do it.  Don’t do it.  Then…he did it.  With drooping shoulders, and donning not an ounce of dignity, he began picking up the toys for her.  He picked up every last toy, in front of a full room of women, and then disappeared into the hall to find his family.

My children learned something interesting in school.  In early America, children did not eat with their parents.  Not only that, they were not allowed to talk during dinner.  Not only that, they waited on their parents while the parents ate.  Not only that, the children stood and ate, they didn’t even get a seat when it was their turn.  This was our country once upon a time.

Now for me, that seems extreme.  On the contrary, my family loves our family dinners – something we make a priority in our home.  I’m not suggesting we take away our children’s seats and forbid them to speak, but how in the world did we get from there to here where kids sit at the proverbial head-of-the-table and parents ask their permission to speak?  This blog is far too short to answer that question.  Much research has gone into family roles & dynamics, American history and the changes it’s seen and how that affects the individual.  It’s a black hole of information, unfortunately, because although we clearly see patterns of a downward spiral in our society in regards to respect, manners, and courtesy, few seem to want to do anything about it!

Why do parents allow their children to captain the ship? Rule the roost? What good do they think will come from it?  Oh, I know.  They will gain their child’s respect and friendship.  Um.  Bad news…that philosophy won’t work.  And, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Why do parents need their children’s approval on their job as a parent?

Who is the leader of the family?

Why are parents afraid to parent?

Why are they afraid of their children? (children who abuse their parents notwithstanding)

When did parents relinquish their power and surrender authority to their children?

How do they think this will ever help the child as an adult?  I have so many questions.

We are all born selfish.  It’s our human nature.  But, unless we are going to live in solitary confinement on a deserted island, we have to act as a society, and family is the cornerstone to any society.  It is the parent’s job to set boundaries and rules for their kids (and follow through on them).  But, kids who are at the age of accountability to accept the appropriate consequences of their behavior must answer for themselves.

When I look at families where the child has the parent wrapped around their little finger at age 7, 9, and 11, I think what fun that house will be when hormones rage in the teen years.  The battles parents and kids have now when they are young, battles where the parents ultimately give in to whatever the topic du jour is, will be more fierce, more intense and create more problems in the teen years than young parents can ever imagine.

Godly authority exercised by the parent, and godly respect given by the children, is how families were divinely designed.  The precious gift of mutual friendship comes later when the children are no longer children and are no longer under the authority of the parents.

Until then, it’s not an even playing field.  Children don’t have equal say, equal voice, in a matter.  It’s not their job because they aren’t qualified for the job as an adult at their ripe, young age.

Some reasons parents cave is because they are either: too tired, too frustrated, too weak, too afraid, have no parenting plan, don’t care, or have become stuck in an unhealthy pattern with their children like a fly stuck to flypaper.

One thing I remind myself of when we address respect in our home is this – how my child treats me now is how they will treat me when I am old.  In other words, how I allow my child to treat me now, is how they are naturally going to relationship with me when I am old and need their help.  It’s something to think about.

Kids who are allowed to say anything, do anything, to their parents will be adults who could care less about their aging parents’ needs.  After all, life is all about them, and that’s the way it’s always been for them…so why is the parent shocked decades later when the grown child shows no concern for them?

I have personally witnessed a boy hit his mother in the head when she said No to something he wanted.  She gave in.  What will happen when he is bigger and stronger than her and she says No again – and maybe means it this time?

The formula is simple: selfish child = selfish adult; demanding child = demanding adult; bossy, disrespectful child = bossy, disrespectful adult.  How will that fair for them in the workplace? In marriage?  In friendships when Mom no longer arranges the play dates?

What I see is parents want to skip the teaching, training, and tough love and jump right to the parent/adult child friendship.  This plan will fail.

Scenario #3 – My friend told me that once she, her kids and her adult sister were in a store in the checkout line.  My friend’s daughter (very young at the time) wanted something from the impulse aisle.  My friend said, No.  Her daughter proceeded to throw the biggest tantrum ever.  Resolving to not give in, my friend looked at her visiting sister and said, Can you handle it?  Her sister replied, Yep.  Well, okay, then, my friend said.  And they stood there ignoring the tantrum that had caught everyone’s attention. They were resolute, and guess what?  The daughter wasn’t permanently scarred!  Actually, she grew a little more as a person that day, and she is a very lovely young lady today.

Perhaps maintaining an image is why parents cave.  What will people think of me if my toddler screams their head off over me not buying this toy they want?  I can tell you what some are thinking, Been there.  Done that.  Stay strong.  I’d much rather see a little child throw an obnoxious fit over not getting a toy, then an obnoxious adult throwing a fit over anything!

If parents are hoping that some shift in respectful maturity will magically happen between childhood and adulthood without intentional training, they will be sorely disappointed.  Maturity eventually happens, most of the time, but that doesn’t guarantee a respectful adult.  Just look at the statistics in our country from crime to divorce to prescription drug use to alcohol abuse and so on.  Look at the television shows that are “supposed” to have a pulse on the heartbeat of America.  I’ve never seen so many disrespectful people on the small screen – from mouthy children on kids shows to R-rated reality adult shows.  Really?  This is a portrait of us?

Parenting, especially parenting in the early years, is like the game Risk.  There must be a strategy.  There must be intentional moves on the parent’s part.  There must be a goal to work towards.  There must be diligent work on the parent’s part.

No one said parenting was easy, and we need to put our big girl panties on and accept it.

Laying a foundation of who’s in charge and how things will role will pay off later.  I remember once on a bad day of behavior in our home, I looked my children in the eye and said, I’ll do the hard thing, every time, because it’s the right thing.  Even if that means Mom needs a time out first.  In the moment, it is extremely easy to take the quick way out and give in to the demands of kids.  It’s so understandable that Mom or Dad has had a long day and they are tired.  I completely empathize with being physically, mentally and emotionally drained.  But, losing small battles leads up to losing the war.  No, we don’t want to be at war with our children, but our carnal natures sure are.  It’s how we are wired.  One will win.  One will lose.  Which will it be?

Even the Apostle Paul, a full-grown adult, couldn’t understand it.  His words are some of the most confusing in the Bible…

Romans 7: 14-21

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

Whew.  If even he struggled with how to behave and what to do, a former flawless Pharisee and completely committed ambassador for Christ, then how confused must children be, who have much less life experience, to understand about how to live?

I love my children with all my heart.  And because of this, I love them enough to do the hard thing (i.e., calling them out every single time disrespect rears its ugly head – which is rare, by the way, because my husband and I have set the foundation mention above) in order to keep peace in our home and to set them up for success now and as they grow.  Teachers won’t tolerate rude students.  Employers won’t tolerate disrespectful employees.  In this economy there are ten people lined up waiting for that job!  In a marriage – well – just look at the divorce rates.  They speak for themselves.

Allowing disrespect by way of physical or verbal communication stunts children’s emotional growth. Eventually, if parents want their children to be employable and marriable, children have to learn respect – and this begins at home.

Teaching them this truth now will save them much heartache later.  It may also save their marriage, their job and their friendships.  And, it may give parents what they hope for one day – a healthy friendship with their adult child.  In moments of conflict, think long-term goals.  Parenting is not a sprint.  It’s a marathon.  A strong finish is possible.  Don’t give in or give up.  Your children are counting on you to show them the way – even if they don’t act like it or say it.  Run strong. Lead the way.

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