Feeling disrespected can be frustrating and even infuriating. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the rage well up inside us when our children are disrespectful.
We’re told to expect disrespectful behavior from teenagers in our culture, but that doesn’t make it easy to deal with. And even more importantly, is it true? Should we expect disrespect as if it’s normal and okay?
I don’t think so. I think it’s normal that people of any age are disrespectful without training. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay.
Just because something is normal doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s normal for me to want to eat more chocolate than I should. It’s normal for my sons to want to stay up all night on a school night sometimes. And it’s normal to want to punch someone in the face when they say mean things.
Teenagers are people. They are going through all kinds of physical, mental, social and emotional change (see What Happened to my Kid? for more on this). It will be normal for them to show disrespect. It’s understandable and expected.
However, disrespect from a person on the verge of becoming an adult is not okay. Even though there are many disrespectful adults in the world, respect is important. And the teenage years are wonderful years of opportunity to teach habits and behaviors that can last a lifetime.
I have to warn you though… it’s not easy! There are no magical formulas to being the perfect parents or raising flawless kids.
It’s not easy, but it is possible to move toward more respect in your family and from your teens.
Here are six practical steps toward teaching respect to your teenagers:
1. Contemplate Respect
Before we can teach something, we have to know something about it and be somewhat proficient at it. We don’t have to be perfect by any means, however, we at least have to be headed in the same direction as we are trying to teach and lead.
What does it mean to respect?
The dictionary says respect is “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability…” Basically it is acknowledging the worth of other people or recognizing their dignity.
The more difficult question is… how do we show respect?
In a recent sermon, Bill Hybels gave the following 10 ways to show respect:
i. See People as Image Bearers
Genesis 1:26-7 says that God created humans in his image. This means that every person reflects God in some way. Every person that walks this planet matters to God. He loves them! He treasures them!
If we remember how much even the worst person we know matters to God, it will help us treat people with respect. This sets the foundation for respect because respect is all about recognizing and acknowledging the worth of people.
ii. Differ without Demonizing
Respectful people hold people in high regard. When they do not agree with someone, they differ against the position not the person.
It’s easier to disagree with the person, argue against them and demonize them. However, the respectful way is to remember the value of the person and argue against the position not the person.
iii. Believe the Best
Our instinctual approach to new situations and people we don’t know well is to be defensive and suspicious. When someone cuts us off in traffic or does something we don’t understand is to get angry at how they are treating us. Usually the actions of others are not vengeful at all.
Respectful people enter new situations humbly and with curiosity. They fight the urge to think poorly of people and strive to believe the best.
iv. Don’t Interrupt or Dominate
I like predicting what people are going to say and finishing their sentences for them. But it’s not very respectful to do that.
Respectful people don’t interrupt others and never dominate a conversation. They hold the person they are talking to in high regard and actually want to hear their thoughts and feelings.
v. No Incendiary Words
Offensive language does not build people up. There are a lot of words or phrases that express frustration or emphasize a point. However, respectful people refuse to use words and phrases that hurt or insult other people.
This is very important not only in private or public conversation, but also (especially for teens) social media. Hiding behind a screen, we often find it easier to say things we wouldn’t say in person. It’s just as important to write words that build people up rather than cut them down.
vi. Courteous to Everyone
The most respectful and admirable people treat everyone courteously. They open doors for people, give the best seat to others and pay attention to people that others don’t even notice.
vii. No Stereotyping
Respectful people value humans and treat them as individuals. They do not give in to the temptation to stereotype anyone.
viii. Apologize Quickly
When a respectful person offends someone, they apologize immediately.
ix. Form Opinions Carefully
We live in a culture that expects us to have immediate opinions about everything. Respectful people take their time to form opinions and stay open minded to additional information. They do not leap to conclusions before discerning through prayer and wise counsel. And they reserve the right to modify their position when new information comes along rather than stubbornly holding on to their own pride.
x. Prompt and Faithful
Respectful people show up when they say they will and do what they say they would. Showing up late or not doing what you’ve promised is disrespectful to other people. Being prompt and faithful honors other people.
2. Pick One Way to Show Respect and Practice It
The best way to teach anything is to model it first. Unfortunately, a lot of our children’s attitudes, habits and behaviors come from us, their parents.
The great thing about this is that we can model that change is possible, growth and improvement are good to work for, and respect is something worth pursuing.
Pick one of the 10 ways to show respect and begin practicing it toward your family, toward your friends, toward everyone.
3. Treat your Teenager with Respect
Although we can demand respectful behavior, we will not be authentically respected unless we earn it. You may find it difficult to respect your teenagers, but treating them with respect is an important step to earning their respect.
Feeling respect toward a disrespectful person may take more time than treating them respectfully, but the goal is to both feel respect for and act respectfully toward our kids.
One way to work on feeling more respectful is to think of as many characteristics and traits that are admirable (or could be admirable) about your teenager.
Communicating respectfully toward our children is an important step toward treating them with respect. Think about how you speak to your son or daughter. How would you communicate differently toward someone you respect?
4. Talk about Respect with your Family
As you begin modeling respect toward your others, including your teenagers, you can begin to share what you are learning and practicing with your family.
Talk about how important respect is in relationships and how hurtful disrespect is. Ask for opinions and ideas about what is respectful and disrespectful. Work towards a respectful conversation that can encourage a desire for more respect.
5. Expect and Reinforce Respectful Behavior
Take some time to think through what kind of behavior you want to begin working on. Then determine what behavior you will and will not expect and why. Make sure it is very clear. Remember that what may be obvious to you as an adult may not be obvious to your child. Also, be ready to answer the predictable “why?” question.
When you are extremely clear in your own mind (even better if you write it out), have a conversation with your teenager to explain why respectful behavior is so important. Tell them about what behavior you expect and answer their questions about why.
Then work with your child to determine the consequences for straying outside your expected behaviors.
After working on 1 of the 10 ways for a while, you can pick another one and go through the process again. Respect, like any other character quality, takes time to develop.
Notice and praise the growth you see and continue to challenge further growth.
Respect doesn’t come easy, but it’s important! I hope that as you work through these steps, you will grow in your own respect for your teenager and others. And, I trust you will begin to experience more respectful behavior from your family!