Respect is a Two-Way Street

Q. You emphasize the importance of children having respect for adults. I'm a teenager, and it seems to me that some adults have little respect for children. Isn't respect a two-way street?

A. You're absolutely right. Respect is a two-way street. It is important that adults demonstrate proper respect for children, just as they expect it in return.

Unfortunately, a lot of adults - perhaps most - want the respect of children, but don't understand why that's so important to a child's development or how to achieve it.

These adults seem to think this is a matter of children acknowledging the superiority of adults and demonstrating gratitude for being fed, clothed and protected from the elements. Because they think in superficial terms, these adults (and I hope I'm stepping on a lot of toes) get all bent out of shape when children act the least bit rebellious or ungrateful.

The objective is not to uplift adults by having children feed their egos, but to assist children toward their own uplifting. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Confucius all said that one must develop respect for others in order to develop self-respect. What goes around, comes around. The young child takes the first step toward self-respect by learning respect for his or her parents. Respect then expands to other adult authority figures, to the immediate social group and eventually, to all mankind. In bestowing respect upon others, respect for self matures.

Yes, it is necessary for adults to demonstrate respect for children, but the adult-child relationship cannot be democratic. Therefore, showing respect for children is not a matter of treating them like equals. Rather, it's a matter of accepting children for what they are; patiently nurturing them toward what they are capable of becoming; expecting a lot of them.

Trial and Error

Accepting children for what they are means accepting their misbehavior - not approving of it, mind you, but accepting it. It takes most of 18 years to civilize a child, and the process is one of trial and error, with an emphasis on error. As the errors occur, adults must be ready to correct them. To effectively correct, one must communicate well, and to communicate well, one must be reasonably composed (albeit disapproving). One cannot remain composed in the face of a child's errors unless one accepts (respects) that the child is a child.

To patiently nurture means not only to give adequate love and affection, but also to deliver proper discipline. These are the two sides of the coin of good parenting. Love without discipline in equal measure is indulgent, and discipline without an equal measure of love is punitive. Walking this balance beam, with grace, is the task set before parents.

Expecting a lot of children means setting high standards. It is, of course, possible to set unreasonably high standards. But the more common mistake is to set standards too low. In the real world, mediocrity is not rewarded. To accept mediocrity of any sort from a child is disrespectful. Parents should expect children to do well in school, display excellent manners, treat other children fairly, and perform chores (for no pay) around the home.

Within reason, the higher parents set standards, the more they elevate their children. And that, in the final analysis, is what respecting children is all about.

Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond

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