You’re Not Your Mom (or Dad)

Whenever I teach a parenting workshop, I invariably hear complaints like “I never would have spoken to my mom the way my kids speak to me!”  Or “My dad would’ve mentioned his belt, and that would have been the end of it!” Or “My parents’ word was law; how come I can’t have that with my own kids?”

We could place the blame on a number of things – technology, media, broken families – but the simplest answer is that the culture has changed.  In general, we show less respect to others than we used to.  It used to be that men stood up whenever women entered the room, and children weren’t allowed to interrupt their parents.  Until recently, men didn’t wear hats inside buildings, and teens didn’t use the phone during dinner.  Think about road rage, sports fans’ behavior, and judges on reality TV shows, and you realize how widespread the culture of disrespect is.

However, this does not mean you have to tolerate disrespect from the teen-agers in your life.  I have two pieces of advice for you:

  1. Don’t show disrespect, and
  2. Don’t allow it.

I addressed the first issue in  You might want to spend a few minutes in self-evaluation:  Do you show respect to your teen?  Respect has to be mutual, and it has to begin with you.

The second issue is not as hard as it sounds.  Neither my children nor my students are allowed to speak disrespectfully to me.  When they try, I simply say in a calm and (maddeningly) reasonable voice, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel very respected by you when you use that tone of voice (or those words).  Please start over more respectfully, and then I can listen to you.”   If they repeat themselves in a nicer tone, I pretend it’s the first time I’ve heard it and respond appropriately, without any sarcasm or chastising.  If they repeat themselves in the same tone (or a nastier one), I either say what I said before or change to, “I’m sorry, but this doesn’t seem like a good time to talk.  Come find me when you can speak in a nicer tone.”  I then walk away.

At this point, if they change their tone, I do an about-face and listen.  If they get huffy or say something else inappropriate, I just keep walking.

Now here’s the tough part:  by this time I’m annoyed, so if they find me a few minutes later and are willing to back down, it can be really hard to listen patiently and not spout off words showing my frustration.  I listen nicely anyway, because I won’t gain anything by launching into a lecture or by deciding it’s my turn to be snotty.  I bite my tongue, plaster on a pleasant look, and reward their behavior by responding respectfully.

Sound too easy?  Give it a whirl and then check back in a couple of days, when we’ll discuss what to do about swearing, stomping off, and door slamming.  (By the teens, I mean.)

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