Raising Respectful Children: Solutions to Youth Disrespect Crisis

by | Dec 20, 2010 | Character and Moral Intelligence

Troubling data revealing a breakdown of civility and respect in today’s youth. Parenting advice to turn that trend around and raise respectful children.

RESPECT: Showing you value others by treating them in a courteous and considerate way.” The virtue is glorious. It’s the basis of civilization and humanity. The problem is that it seems to be declining with our youth.

Lessons Learned About Our Children Across the Seas

I was in Hong Kong at an educational conference a few years ago to present a keynote address and conduct workshops about improving students’ emotional health. One session was quite memorable: the educators worked at various international schools in Asia and the Pacific Rim with students from all over the world. Gradually I realized that several of these teachers had been assigned to U.S. schools but then left before they’d finished the year. Apparently they just couldn’t continue and had to cut short their commitment. I was surprised and curious: what was it about the American schools that had been so negative that they’d had to change their plans, break off the year early, and ask for reassignment?

So I tried to catch a few of the teachers alone and find out what had really happened. One Australian teacher who’d just come back early from California told me confidentially that it wasn’t the schools, or the parents or other the teachers. No, it was the kids themselves.

“The kids?” I was really concerned by now. “What was wrong with our kids?”

And here is the lesson I learned miles from home:

“I couldn’t teach them,” the teacher said. “They had no self-respect!”

“Self-respect! That’s why this teacher went home early? I had to check around more. So I

cornered a young woman from Singapore who had also shortened her U.S. teaching experience.

“Your students don’t respect themselves, but they also don’t respect authority: not all of them, but enough to make it really tough in a classroom,” she explained. “If they weren’t going to value my opinions–let alone listen to them–then how could I teach them? That’s why I left.”

A Taiwanese teacher overhearing us added, “But they’re just as disrespectful to their peers: I stopped having class discussions because some were so rude to each other. They didn’t have enough courtesy to be quiet and listen to their classmates.”

“I’ve seen them treat their parents like that too,” said another teacher, “and it’s a lot worse than how they treat us. They can be very flippant and even insolent.”

“But what does this all this have to do with lacking self-respect?” I asked.

An Australian educator explained to me: “Many of your students seem sad or even angry. Oh, they can sound like they’re confident, but deep down I think a lot of them feel empty. They’re just treating others the way they really feel about themselves.”

The group of teachers all agreed they’d encountered the same problem: American students lacked self-respect, and it was showing up in how they treated others. As one teacher pointed out, “How can you treat others respectfully, if you don’t respect yourself?”

Point taken. I couldn’t agree more.

A group of foreign educators hundreds of miles away had discerned a major issue troubling many of our kids, while most Americans remain baffled. It centered on our children’s craving for respect: an essential moral virtue and one critical for the attainment of solid character.Data seem to confirm these teachers’ perspectives; this decrease in self-respect leads them to act with disrespect toward others as well as themselves and to engage in disrespectful behaviors such behaviors as incivility, discourtesy, thoughtlessness, flouting of authority, rudeness and vulgarity. Without a solid foundation, the development self-respect is imperiled. After all, a decent and moral life begins with the recognition of the infinite value of each and every human being, and to achieve that recognition our children must learn first to respect themselves. Only then can they really respect others by treating them with consideration, thoughtfulness, and honor.

The Youth Disrespect Crisis

Nurturing this essential virtue not only will improve our kids’ moral intelligence quotient but will create a more civil, tolerant, and moral atmosphere in which to live. And it will help children gain what so many long for: self-respect.That’s why it is so disturbing to find such widespread agreement-from child development authorities, parents, educators, lawmakers and general public-that this core moral trait is deteriorating in our youth.

Here are a few examples indicating a growing national crisis of disrespect:

In a survey quoted in Child magazine only 12 percent of the two thousand adults polled felt that kids commonly treat others with respect; most described them as “rude,” “irresponsible,” and “lacking in discipline.”

Dr. Thomas Lickona, renowned educator and the author of Educating for Character, cites large numbers of children showing attitudes of defiance for authority as one of the ten most troubling youth trends, and warns it is a clear a sign of moral decline.

A nationwide survey published in the New York Times showed that 93 percent of responding adults believed parents have failed to teach children honesty, respect and responsibility.

Louisiana lawmakers were so concerned with the breakdown of basic civility in school kids, that they recently passed legislation making the saying of “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” expected student behavior. Failure to address a teacher respectfully is now considered a minor offense that can bring detention.

What Parents and Educators Can Do to Reduce Disrespect

Let’s be clear: there is no gene for respect or disrespect. If our kids are disrespectful we have only ourselves to blame. Yes, society is ruder and cruder. Yes, vulgarity is rampant. Yes, movies, lyrics and television flaunt incivility. But despite the erosion of respect and civility, there are respectful kids. The reason? Their parents and teachers expected and modeled respect. Let’s get on the “Respect Bandwagon” so we raise caring, civil, humane kids. Here are a few ways to intentionally make sure our kids turn out just fine, thank you.

  • Treat children respectfully so that they feel respected and are therefore more likely to treat others respectfully.
  • Tune up your child’s social graces and make courtesy a priority in your home. Eating dinner regularly as a family is one of the easiest ways to teach children table manners, courtesy, and conversation skills.
  • Take time to tell and show your kids how to be respectful; never assume they have that knowledge.
  • Do not tolerate any form of back talk or rudeness. “Nipping in the bud” is always the most successful method of stopping any behavior from becoming a habit. Stop it before it spreads.
  • Monitor your child’s media consumption closely. Supervise his Internet, movie, video game, and television viewing, allowing only what you feel is appropriate for your child to watch. Be aware of possible crude and vulgar content on recorded music: read and honor “parental advisory” labels.
  • Explain your standards and expectations to the other adults- teachers, day-care staff, baby-sitters, coaches, and relatives-in your child’s life. If you work together on enhancing courtesy and respect you will always be more likely to be successful.
  • Make sure your child is surrounded by people-grown ups as well as kids-who model respectful, courteous behaviors, so what they’re watching is what you really want her to “catch.”

Parents who raise respectful, moral kids don’t do so by accident. Be intentional!

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

For more Practical Parenting Advice follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba or refer to my daily blog, Dr. Michele Borba’ Reality Check.