The Expert Scoop
Teaching Kids Respect
There is a big question making the rounds among the parents at my daughter's kindergarten 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. I could quote startling statistics regarding this increase in disrespect, however teachers, parents, and other kids can all tell us this is a growing crisis in our world today, resulting in increased violence and anti-social behavior to an alarming degree. Many parents don’t realize the level of disrespect the average child is subjected to daily.
According to Dr. Michele Borba, author of Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing, Jossey Bass 2001, by the time a child reaches the age of seven, 98 percent of parents have verbally lashed out at them. One out of three called their kids belittling names and swore at them. Many of us can testify to this by what we hear everyday. Even if these statistics don’t apply to your own home, kids are affected by many adults throughout their day, and they all have tremendous power to influence a child. Observing parents and other adults interact is a strong factor when kids are forming their foundations and understandings of how important respect is and how it is used. 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 Many of these seemingly trivial ideas have become almost outdated, but one should seriously consider the value of these ideas before casting them aside.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. Character education expert and author Thomas Lickona says “Language is an index of civilization; changes in language are socially significant.” The ongoing and by all appearances, acceptable use of bad language indicates another decline in this crucial area of respect. The media, as you may have guessed, plays a large part in the increase in disrespect. The Parents Television Council, according to 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. See how your child is doing with this simple guideline from Building Moral Intelligence, by Dr. Michele Borba, of behaviors usually displayed by kids who demonstrate respect.
Child uses a respectful tone of voice
Child respects the privacy of others
Doesn't gossip or speak unkindly of others
Treats property with respect
Avoids disrespectful gestures aound others
Uses manners regularly
Does not interrupt
Avoids swearing and obscene gestures
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. She has been quoted in national print including Parents, Redbook and Nick Jr. Magazines and NPR. She contributes regularly to online publications and lives in Northern California with her two daughters. She is also the Founder of AnneLeedomPR.com, a premier agency promoting authors, coaches, speakers and others who utilize her services to expand their media platform.