Respect: Cost versus benefit for parents and children

Yesterday we discussed respect and why children need to learn it.  Today, I want to touch on two main issues that can make or break respect – for children and adults.

Self-control and pride.

These are the muscles that either work for or against respect.  When we take away the drama of disrespect and peek underneath at what motivates someone to be disrespectful, typically there is a lack of self-control and an overload of pride.

Disrespect can be shown in any number of ways.  Anyone can do it.  It’s easy!  We just say what we feel with no filter on our mouths.  Or, we do what we feel like with no thought or concern of the repercussions to our actions.  Disrespect is easy.  It’s also very costly.  Once a word leaves our mouth, we can never ever retract it.  We can say we are sorry a hundred times, but it doesn’t make the word(s) disappear.  Sticks and stones – yeah, right.  We all know words hurt.  It’s why we use them against people-to hurt them.  Whoever first coined this phrase was spot on: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  If everyone lived according to that the world would be a better place.

Disrespect can be shown in many ways without ever physically touching the other person.  Deliberate defiance, foot stomping, walking away, eyes rolling and rude body language screams disrespect without uttering a word or producing physical harm.  Oh, we are good.  We know exactly how to show disrespect if we want to.  After all, it comes naturally!  And for those who are closest to us, we know precisely the hottest buttons to push to show it.

When parents let a word from a child go here and there, they are in essence telling them what is acceptable behavior.  If the child says something out of line either by way of subject matter or foul language, and the parent turns a blind eye to disrespectful behavior, they have just told the child it is perfectly okay to say or do it.  A non-response is a response nonetheless.

Parents can, and should, only deal with so much at time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if heavy subject matter is being addressed, it is ineffective to try to correct every single thing the child has done wrong right then and there.  But, it must be addressed at some point.  After conflict, parents just want peace and quiet in their homes, so who wants to dredge up more issues?  However, if the issue isn’t addressed, rest assured it will come up again and again.  And, every time it comes up, a precedent has been set that whatever the child has said or done is permissible.

Children remember.  They remember it was okay to say it, or do it, last time and they are thinking, So who’s the hypocrite now?  I could get away with it before and not this time?  Who’s the double standard now?

They are right.  One thing I often tell my tween and teens regarding peer pressure is this – you have to have already made up your mind how you will respond to a situation.  It’s far too much pressure to try to sort it all out in the heat of the moment.  You have to have already determined your boundaries, that way, when the moment of decision comes you can simply fall back on what you previously decided.

It’s much the same with parenting.  We have to have a plan.  We must have boundaries.  We must gather the courage to stick to them.  Waiting until something comes up in the middle of conflict to determine how you feel about it is not the time to debate within ourselves what we should do.  We should already know what we’re are going to do.  It takes a lot of pressure off of ourselves to simply follow through with our standard, rather than create one on the spot.

Additionally, standards created on the spot are not reliable.  Factors that affect said standard are: the offense committed by the child/teen, how angry the parent is, how volatile the conflict gets, the kind of day the parent has had (what Mom or Dad’s mood is going into the conflict), and likewise what kind of mood and day the child/teen has had.  All of those are centered around emotions, and emotions are fleeting and are extremely temperamental (pardon the pun).

Decisions about what a parent will allow the child/teen to say must be predetermined when there is no conflict and the parent is in control of himself or herself.  It is so much easier to parent with a plan, rather than make it up as we go.

(Tip – kids see right through a spontaneous plan, and they know how to use it against us.  I think they can smell it or see it or feel its vibe (just kidding), but they know us well enough to tell the difference when we are readily prepared and when we are winging it.)

Disrespect is a lack of self-control.  We just can’t help ourselves!  We know we are right, or even when we know we are wrong – we’re gonna be heard – and whatever it takes to make us feel heard, well, so be it.  Yikes.  This philosophy will land the growing child grounded and the adult child unemployed and most likely alone.

Self-control and pride.  When I think about these two character traits, I see with my mind’s eye, the silly image we’ve all seen before.  A person standing with a little angel that looks like the person on one shoulder and a little devil that looks like the person on the other shoulder.  They are both debating their point-of-view into the person’s ear.

Self-control is one of the hardest virtues!  A lack of it wages war against our better judgement, only sees the moment, and could care less about long-term effects of the situation.

Pride is truly the root, the seed, of a lack of self-control – which leads to disrespect.  We don’t want to admit we are wrong, and we certainly don’t want anyone to tell us we are wrong!  A heaping dose of pride inhibits us from letting the other person finish speaking, choosing not to slam the door, choosing not to jump in the car and drive off, choosing not to say something we will deeply regret later.

For children of all ages, they are trying to figure this all out.  They do not have the life experience of say, getting fired from a job for yelling at the boss, or having security come remove them from the classroom for refusing to participate.

They are in a season of life of testing boundaries.  It’s not necessarily always about how “bad” they are behaving.  Sometimes, whether they realize it or not, they are trying to find civilized boundaries.  When parents don’t teach them boundaries, how do kids know when to stop?  If parents don’t have a plan, and therefore are constantly moving the boundary lines, then unnecessary confusion is created and no one is going to come out of that successfully.

There once was a study done with a group of children.  They placed the children in a fenced-in yard with tons of fun things to do: swings, toys, slides, you know, fun stuff.  The kids had a blast!  They were as busy as ants at a picnic.  Then, they took the fence away, but left the toys.  The same group of kids meandered aimlessly around as if they were lost.  They didn’t play with the toys.  They just…wandered around.  Fascinating!  The conclusion was that when the fence was there, the kids knew they were free to do everything inside the fence.  When the fence was removed, the kids didn’t know what they could do because they didn’t know how far they could roam or what else around them was fair game to play with.

The same principle applies to parenting in regards to respect.  Parents must show children what is acceptable and what is not.  They must use the same fence every time.  Don’t move the fence around – that won’t help and will only confuse the child.

Is the child allowed to cuss at the parent?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to yell at the parent?  Yes or no. Is the child allowed to tell the parent to shut-up?  Yes or no.

Is the child allowed to storm off in an argument?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to slam doors, throw objects or turn away from the parent when being spoken to?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to roll their eyes or show other similar body language?  Yes or no.

These are the kinds of boundaries that need to be predetermined – preferably before the child is born, but it’s never too late to begin healthy, CONSISTENT boundaries.

Here’s a tough word…any of the above mentioned that the child/teen is permitted to do to parents, he or she will do the same things to their future boss and spouse.  How’s that going to work for them?  It won’t end well.  And, for parents who are still trying to be their child’s best friend in the growing years, allowing the child/teen to get away with these things through rationalizing or justifying in the parent’s mind (oh, they’ve had a bad day, they’ve had a hard life, etc.) is going to result in the child resenting the parent.  Why? Because the parent, in either spoken or unspoken terms, told the child it was okay to behave like this, but when the grown child tries to pull this stuff on the world, he or she will quickly find out the hard way the world won’t tolerate it and there is a price to be paid for such behavior.  The grown child will, in essence, be baffled as to why the parent didn’t warn them.  Why did the parent lead them on in something that is not reality?  Why didn’t the parent better prepare the child for the real world?  What will the parent say then?

Self-control, pride and respect are a threesome that cannot be separated.  A parent cannot deal with one without knowing the other two are in cahoots with it.  Again, a moment of conflict is probably not the best time to address every single last issue.  The child is not in a position to hear and process all that at once.  But, when tempers have cooled down and everyone is thinking clearly and in a receptive mood to listen, boundaries must be reaffirmed and appropriate consequences given for breaking through the fence.

We are not born knowing boundaries.  We are born trying to buck them.  Take advantage of the little amount of time we have to set up our children for a successful future.  It may mean rough waters for now, but the end result is a healthy family who knows their rules and children know their place.  The end result will, hopefully, be mature, respectful children who will esteem their parent for better preparing them for the real world.

Bottom line – a parent will count the cost for how they parent now or later.  The parent must choose whether to work through the rough spots now, even though they are tired, have hard jobs, have hard marriages, or feel too inadequate to effectively parent, or the parent can choose to turn a blind eye, remove the fence for the sake of a moment of peace and not invest in a plan, but wind up with a grown child who has trouble with work and relationships – including with the parent.

We must decide today – today – how we will parent.  There are many great books about parenting available.  Invest now and enjoy the payoff later.

<<Check out a great book recommendation on my Books page!>>

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