Teaching Kids Respect

There is a big question making the rounds among the parents at my daughter's class. Should the kids refer to the parents' friends as "Mr. Jones" or "Mrs. Smith", rather than using their first names? I was quite shocked, having come from a home where it would have been unheard of to refer to one of my parent's friends by their first name. This was reserved for only the closest of family friends and relatives, and even they always had "Aunt" or "Uncle" in front of their name.

Respect is something that is earned and commanded. Unlike many of the other virtues we try to nurture in our kids that are mostly present from birth, respect is a bit more complicated. Respect is not only necessary when dealing well with others, but the virtue of self-respect is critical for kids to succeed and feel good about themselves and their choices throughout their lives.

There are several factors that can have a big impact on kids and their ability to be respectful. The first one to consider is manners. Calling adults by their surnames, setting proper examples during sporting events and while driving, and how we talk to each other in our homes all can have a tremendous affect on a child’s concept of respect and how important it is. Many of these seemingly trivial ideas have become almost outdated, but one should seriously consider the value of these ideas before casting them aside. It is easy to become unconscious about these behaviors. Try to keep track of how often your child is subjected to this kind of disrespect.

The media, as you may have guessed, plays a large part in the increase in disrespect. The Parents Television Council, according to Dr. Michele Borba, looked at four weeks of programming during the 1999 fall season in the 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. time slot and tallied up to 1,173 vulgarities---nearly five times that of 1989. Movies are equally to blame, with a PG movie often containing an abundant amount of crude and profane language.

These factors and others all contribute to an alarming increase in disrespect in society. If we don’t step in and change the course, we will find living in a morally respectful culture unlikely. This process can be greatly impacted for the better by treating our kids as though they are the most important person in the world, in reference to the level of respect we give them. Show them unconditional love and listen with your whole attention. Let your kids feel your love through your hugs, your words and your encouragement. Spend time together interacting. Eliminate disrespect by immediately calling attention to it, and if need be, have behaviors in place to discourage it further. Dr. Borba recommends refusing to engage when kids are being disrespectful.

Fine kids for swearing. Use time outs for younger kids. Don’t allow kids to socialize with family if they can’t be respectful. Take away phone privileges or ground them. Younger kids need more immediate consequences in order to fully understand the impact of their behavior. Above all, the same rule applies. Reinforce your kids’ positive and respectful behavior and be clear about negating disrespect. Kids take their cues from all adults, so be sure you are setting the best possible standards.

In the case of extreme disrespect, consider getting help to cope and modify behaviors.


Anne Leedom is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of www.parentingbookmark.com and www.teenpalz.com. She lives in Northern California and is frequently quoted in national media. She contributes to a variety of national online publications, including Beliefnet.com and DrLaura.com.

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2 Responses to Teaching Kids Respect

  1. Wendy Tomlinson on June 1, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    I absolutely agree that respect is important, however I disagree that having to use a surname commands respect.  My son is nine and we live in a very community orientated place where everybody knows each other.  My son is friends with people in the village of all ages and has a great amount of respect for the people in our community.  He calls his teachers by their first name and even the local policemen.  Having respect for someone (in my opinion) is something that needs to be earned by all parties involved.  Would you want your child to have respect for someone who treated people badly and behaved badly.  Personally I would expect my son to use his manners around this person but I would not expect him to respect that person.

  2. Anne Leedom on June 2, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Yes I agree Wendy. However if the other person WANTED to be referred to by a surname then children and all people really should respect that. Yes respect should be earned but there is also a general courtesy and respect that children should be taught that is given to all people. Its about manners, courtesy and being respectful to all people regardless of how they behave. That builds character in our kids and shows them that how we treat people is essential to a moral society. They can only control how they behave…not other people. So if someone is comfortable with a child addressing them by their first name, that’s perfectly acceptable. If they are not, then that needs to respected.

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