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April 2005
Show Me Some Respect!

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

"Be willing to listen. This shows your teen that you respect his point of view enough to hear to what he has to say. Listen, even if you are discussing a request that is totally out of the question. (‘I’m 14, why can’t I go on a co-ed sleepover?’)"
Parents usually go nuts when their kids show attitude. Despite all the parenting books, classes, and Dr. Phil Shows, all of us, at times have lost it when defied, mocked, insulted or loudly ignored by our children. Stress levels soar and in a blinding, thoughtless fury a parent’s knee-jerk response is to lash out.

"You WILL respect me, damnit! How dare you talk to your mother/father that way you ungrateful little brat!"

That will teach him. That will teach her.

Yep, sure will, but what you’re teaching has nothing to do with respect and everything to do with fear, loathing and the wrong way to parent. You’ve lectured them on the need to be respectful, responsible and mature, but in a split second you’ve shown yourself to be none of the above. Not exactly what you had in mind, was it?

Respect is definitely something you want from your teen, but getting it can be a challenge.

Young children are totally dependent on our goodwill so they seek our approval. We are their heroes and they shower us with affection. Then they grow into teenagers and are always ready to criticize us. That’s part of how they establish an independent identity. It may not be comfortable for us, but it is a normal, healthy process for them. (Take some comfort in the fact that what’s causing their unhappiness often has nothing to do with us.)

When our son was 13 we had this exchange:

“You don’t have any other plans, so why not come to the movies with us? You can pick the film.”

“No thanks.”

“Why not?”

“Because you embarrass me.”

“In what way?”

“Mom, everything about you embarrasses me.”

(Ouch!)

I wish I could say I knew enough not to take this personally, but that would be a lie. You bet I took it personally! But I didn’t attack my son for his “lack of respect.” I didn’t insult him or smack him. I didn’t try to manipulate him with guilt for saying how he felt at that moment.

I also didn’t turn away from him, and I soon realized none of this had anything to do with me. It had to do with his own fear that he might run into someone he knew who would undoubtedly think, “What a loser! He has nothing better to do than go out with his parents!”

For the next two years my husband and I invited our son to dinner or a movie every time we went and each time he turned us down. Many other middle school parents we talked to reported this same phenomenon. Their young teens would rather be home alone than risk being seen with them in public (especially on a Friday or Saturday night!).

We continued to show our son we loved him and totally accepted him. We let him know that we had no doubt about his value as a human being. Our consistency in the face of repeated rejection earned us his respect. If we’d belittled him or showed that we weren’t confident in his ability to work things out on his own, we’d have lost his respect and missed an opportunity to help him gain self-respect. Our approach worked. As he matured he became more self-confident and less concerned about how others judged him. He also became less critical of us and happier to spend time with the family – even in public!

Your consistent love and acceptance of your teen earns you respect in his or her eyes.

Respect is key to effective parenting and it goes in both directions.

Here are some other ways you can earn your teen’s respect:

  1. Keep your cool. If your teen rages DON’T RAGE BACK. If you keep your cool he will respect that you didn’t (and consistently don’t) let your buttons get pushed. Your teen really admires that kind of self-control because he so often wishes he had it.
  2. Be willing to listen. This shows your teen that you respect his point of view enough to hear to what he has to say. Listen, even if you are discussing a request that is totally out of the question. (“I’m 14, why can’t I go on a co-ed sleepover?”) Listening to what he has to say and requiring him to explain why this is a good idea is a very educational process. It requires him to think about and build a case for what he’s requesting. It teaches the art of compromise and forges bonds between you. It can also leave him thinking things like, “OK, I didn’t get what I asked for, but we actually had a good conversation. I feel respected and I respect my dad/mom for treating me like an adult.”
  3. Keep your agreements. It shows that you live by your principles. It also shows that you respect your teen. How can you expect them to keep their agreements with you if you don’t keep yours with them? So when…
    • you say you’re going to pick your daughter up at a 5:30, be there on time.
    • you tell your son he’ll lose privileges if curfew is missed again, follow through.
    • you pledge to yourself to begin a regular walking routine, keep your agreement. Make choices that reflect self-respect and you gain respect in the eyes of others.
  4. Be a straight shooter. When you’re honest and ethical in your business dealings and in day-to-day transactions you walk the walk. You’re role-modeling the good stuff and your teen is watching. Teens have no respect for hypocrisy.
  5. Be a die-hard fan. Go to all the games, plays, dance concerts, and debate team events. Be there for everything your teen does (and don’t use the time to talk on your cell phone). Go as often as your schedule allows even if none of the other parents show and your teen says, “You don’t have to go, it’s no big deal.” Go because that shows support and it demonstrates that you respect the effort your teen puts into what he does.
  6. Be authentic. If that means you sing Beatles’ songs in the car or wear a 15-year-old baseball cap, so be it. This is who you are. Your teen may say you are clueless about music, fashion, and slang, but he will admire the fact that you are free enough to do what pleases you. And isn’t that the ultimate definition of ‘cool’? That kind of independence is something he totally admires and aspires to.

When your behavior models the values you want your teen to emulate you contribute to his healthy development. And as a bonus you earn his respect! When you have his respect everything about your relationship is better.

In friendship,

Annie

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