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Sitting near the playground with a group of parents after school one day, a child came up to ask for a snack from his mother. One of the other parents asked him if he was enjoying his debate team practices.
“Of course I like it, I’m a good debater,” he snapped to the parent.
Trying another angle, the parent commented, “Your mom is a great speaker. I bet you inherited her love of words.”
“Uh, are you trying to be funny?” the 12-year-old sarcastically replied. “She doesn’t know anything! She wouldn’t know a good debate topic of it hit her in the ass.”
I inhaled sharply and held my breath, waiting to see how the boy would respond to the beat-down that was about to be bestowed upon him from his mother.
To my astonishment, the mother didn’t bat an eye. She calmly handed the boy his snack, didn’t respond at all, and acted as if nothing had happened. She didn’t act upset by the put-down, nor concerned with the profanity used by her pre-teen in the company of a group of adults.
It’s as if she was silently chanting, "Honey Badger don’t care!
I was so agitated by the lack of respect the child had shown his mother that I had to physically remove myself from the situation before I opened my mouth. On the one hand, it was none of my business, as every parent has their own style of child-rearing and should be free to use it. On the other hand, I was so sickened by the lack of correction on the mother’s part that I wanted to scream to her that she was contributing to the arrogance of an ever-changing society by expecting no esteem whatsoever from her child!
Do you remember when you were a child and you were expected to tow the line in regards to your words, your tone, and your attitude?
I would get sent to my room, grounded, spanked, or given “the eye” from my parents if I spoke with disrespect to either one of them. My parents’ response was lax in comparison to the punishment some of my friends would receive if they back-talked or spoke disrespectfully to their elders. That expectation of courtesy and regard was extended to virtually anyone I came in contact with: my sister, my cousins, my grandparents, my teachers, my parent’s friends, a stranger I’d meet on the street, the list goes on. I really can’t think of a single person that was excluded from this deference. Every kid I knew, even the kids that were bigger troublemakers than me – to be fair, I was a handful as a child – had been raised the same way. We were all taught to respect our elders, show consideration for our peers, and reverence to our juniors.
So why today, less than half of a decade later, do I hear so many snotty children, teens and, yes, adults speak so contentiously to other people? A customer cussing and screaming at a store associate, a child rolling her eyes at her teacher, a wife belittling her husband in front of a group of people, a bus driver refusing to acknowledge the greeting of a passenger, a child calling his mother stupid…what is going on with our world?
Throughout history, we’ve always seen examples of a few bad apples that infect the bushel, but I’ve just come to realize that as a society, there are more people sh**-talking today than I can ever remember in my life! Sure, maybe I didn’t pay as much attention when I was younger as I do now, and yes, one can point out that my perspective as a matriarch of a growing family is definitely changed since I was a young mover and shaker, not as concerned with my image. Still, I find myself cringing on a regular basis about how I hear people talking to one another. We speak without regard, without courtesy, and worst of all, without implication. It’s as if it has become a given that we no longer respect one another, as is represented by the blatant disregard that has become acceptable in our society for others.
I wish I could say it’s just a fad parenting style being bestowed upon some of our children, and therefore has a somewhat easy fix, as it would eventually die out. I think it’s much more serious, though, as the same generation of people that raised me to not only speak respectfully to and about others, but also to give people my respect by acknowledging that I’m not always right, are now contributing to the problem as well.
Instilling discipline in your children in regards to demanding respect will get the ball rolling. Don’t pretend you don’t hear what they’re saying or acknowledge how they’re acting. Be a parent and address the behavior in whatever style works for you. Correct them on the spot, or wait for the privacy of your home, but just make sure you do it. Let them know your expectation in regards to their words, tone, and attitude, as well as behavior. They will respect you more if you hold them to your expectation. If you bypass a disrespectful comment your child makes because you don’t have the time or energy to deal with the response, you open the door for your child to repeat the language or action because experience has shown him that it is okay.
Next, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Have a one-on-one with your bad self and really self-assess your own behavior in regards to respecting others. Do you occasionally (or often) make nasty comments about other people under your breath? Do you name call or yell at others when you get charged up about something? Do you frequently use a condescending tone with your children, boss, or peers? Make a list, whether mental or physical, of what you need to work on curbing, and then make a plan to modify your behavior.
While the barometer of what is respectful can be somewhat fluid depending on the situation, overall, if you’d consider a comment, action, or behavior aimed toward your child, your mother, or your grandfather to be disrespectful, you shouldn’t say or do it toward another person. I strongly believe that if we actively try to be decent human beings, all of the time, we will train ourselves to speak and act respectfully, without even trying, by sheer practice. It’s about considering how you speak to others and how you feel about yourself. It’s about caring how you come across and how you are viewed as a person. It’s about respecting your children enough to give them the tools to be peaceful. It’s about respecting yourself enough to address your internal issues and keep yourself in check. And finally, it’s about surrendering to the idea that all people – not just people you like, love, admire, or are just like you – deserve respect. Own it. Practice it. Live it.
Stacy lives in Chicago with her partner, Katie, and their two daughters. She writes about any and everything, but focuses on parenting issues. Read more at Parent Unplugged.