Have you ever noticed how often the kids are smarter than the adults in many comedies? I get that it’s a humorous device – reversal– but on many shows, it’s the norm. With monotonous regularity, clueless parents are outwitted and talked down to by their precocious, mouthy kids. I find this beyond annoying because this barrage of parental ineptitude undermines respect.
Kids need to respect their parents to develop to maturity without a string of developmental hitches too numerous to count. It’s terrifying for a child to constantly feel smarter than his parents, to have no one to look up to or receive limits from.
I’m not saying we need to be smarter than our kids in all areas of life – my kids have been more tech savvy than me for years. I’m talking about respect. Kids are emotionally, spiritually and physically safer when they have parents who are morally worthy of respect and willing to maintain authority.
I’m glad that for most of the time at least, my husband and I were the grownups in our family. I recall one of my boys, in middle school at the time, saying, “You and Dad aren’t as cool as some parents. If I get sarcastic and joke around you won’t put up with it.” I considered that a good sign that we were holding our own.
Of course we’re not going to get respect if we’re not living respectable lives. But there’s more to it than that. I think maintaining our children’s respect includes:
- Making expectations clear. In a culture where there is widespread incivility, we can’t assume our kids know how to behave. We need to spell it out: “I expect you to say hello to us when you come in the door,” for example.
- Pulling consequences when kids don’t follow instructions. For example, “You kept the car out past curfew last night so you can’t drive it for the rest of this month.”
- Letting them know they have an emotional impact on you. Sometimes kids are so self-absorbed, or feel so powerless, they don’t know that their words have an effect. “When you tell me you hate me that really hurts. I need you to rephrase that.”
- Making it clear from the start that you are in charge. I recall my five-year-old trying to organize our home schooling schedule every Monday morning for months. After a weekend of relative freedom, he would resist instructions, and soon be put in a time out until he was willing to correctly answer who was in charge. It wasn’t a great start to the week, but if I hadn’t toughed it out, the rest of the week would have been a lot harder.
- Addressing it immediately when kids speak disrespectfully. Rarely is an activity so important that it cannot be stopped to show zero tolerance for bad behavior. Pulling the car over, turning the TV off, ending a game in the middle – that’s what it takes. Kids will treat their future families the way we let them treat us.
- Refusing to let ourselves need our kids. Parents who need their kids to be pleased with them cannot guide them. Parents who use their kids for friendship, for ammunition against a spouse, or to fulfill some unmet ambition of their own, cannot make the unpopular choices that a good parent needs to make.
It can be exhausting to be the grown up, but it is so important for our kids’ development, and our own self-respect, that it is well worth the effort.