By Randy Cale, PH.D
When I speak with parents in my practice, most report that today’s children are ruder, more disrespectful, and show less respect for authority, teachers and adults in general. While it’s certainly true that there are polite, kind, and thoughtful children, the number of disrespectful children is increasing (studies have confirmed this), and we find more and more middle schoolers and high schoolers who are rude, threatening, disrespectful, and at times, violent with their parents. So what’s the problem? In my opinion, there are a number of factors that are fundamentally at cause.
The media models disrespect authority. Children are exposed to more and more role models, where disrespect to adults, teachers, and family members is simply part of the entertainment. At first, many of these seem innocuous and humorous, but as kids get older, they are gradually exposed to an increasing number of books, movies and TV programs that promote and honor kids with an “attitude.”
Kids are inundated with music lyrics containing disrespectful and antisocial messages. As kids transition through those middle school and high school years, they have a fascination with anything that is “off limits,” and they are often interested in the profane, obscene and antisocial as they rebel against the limits placed upon them by schools, parents and society. This has always been happening, and it will continue to happen. However, what has emerged is that adolescents have access to music now, often via MP-3 players that contain profanity, disrespect, distain for authority and often highly prejudicial commentaries. This becomes like subtle programming, constantly bombarding their unconscious mind with messages that are negative, antisocial and derogatory.
Parents fail to intervene when children are disrespectful. I am a strong advocate for ignoring children’s disrespect, especially during their early attempts to “stretch their wings”. The more you react emotionally, the more your kids will get hooked on this language as a source of control over you in the home. But, I am also a strong advocate for intervention with consequences, rather than verbal warnings— especially regarding disrespect in public, or if you feel that you can’t walk away.
Other adults are not encouraged to set limits with children. If I got out of line when I was growing up, any adult in the community would be willing to step in and sit me down for a few minutes, or to set limits for me. This has changed. Too often now, if another parent or adult intervenes in a child’s inappropriate behavior, they will suffer from a verbal thrashing from the parent—which just reinforces the child’s behavior.
Parenting has become more about competing rather than nurturing. Since World War II, there has been a fundamental shift in the way we think of parenting. In today’s world, kids are taught to have a focus on competition. Walk by any soccer field in the spring, and you’ll note that the tone in the coach’s voice is not one of nurturing play and participation for the purpose of enjoying sports; it’s about competition and winning.
In the educational setting, we set up programs that have students competing against one another, classrooms competing against classrooms and schools competing against schools. What has occurred is a blindness toward a balanced set of values. Being able to compete is important, but there are many other values that are more important to your child’s happiness and success.
We teach kids to lose touch with the present and to work hard for the future. When kids are in the present, they laugh, smile, play, run, giggle, and perhaps most importantly, they create. For young kids, whatever they have is often enough; they don’t need more. The more that kids grow into a world where we focus their present efforts on competing for some future goal, the more they lose the present. They actually become unhappy. It’s no wonder then that they are rude and disrespectful—they haven’t found a way to enjoy their life.
Unfortunately, we’re only teaching our kids what we have often learned, and that is to surrender our awareness of the present gifts that bless our lives, and instead to focus on what’s “not enough” —therefore creating for us a sense of lack in a world where we experience plenty.
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.