All Due Respect From Your Teen

The late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” jokes were pretty funny. But it isn’t a laughing matter when a teenager becomes disrespectful to a parent.

While disrespect from a teenager can be demeaning and confusing to parents, it actually brings more harm to the child by tearing at the very fabric of their future. It may be rooted in an authority figure showing disrespect to the child. Or, the child could be imitating the disrespect they see exhibited by their peers or other family members – including their parents.

I’d never say that you can force your child to respect you. But treating someone respectfully is altogether different. It is a controllable choice regardless of one’s opinion of that person. In other words, I may not agree with someone who holds a high office, or has an idea that I don’t like, but I can still treat them respectfully. Yes, it is easier and better for your teen to treat you respectfully if they actually feel respect for you. But, in fact, showing respect should have nothing to do with how they feel about you at the moment.

A teenager’s disrespectful behavior can range from facial glares to obscene gestures; from mouthing off to fits of uncontrolled rage; from taking things without asking to outright stealing or destroying property. Often, disrespect flows from a demanding attitude for the parents’ time, money, privacy, feelings or property, and it usually starts out in insignificant ways. But even small expressions of disrespect are never acceptable. If a parent doesn’t intervene when the issues are small, disrespect can become part of your child’s permanent mindset, with behavior that gets worse over time.

Years ago, our son was a month away from high school graduation when my wife and I went away for the weekend. When we returned from our travel, I knew the moment I entered our home that something wasn’t quite the same as when we’d left.

When I questioned him, he insisted that nothing happened while we were away, and that he had followed the house rules, just as we requested. According to him, the weekend was just like any other. But, I sensed something otherwise! I could tell a crowd had been in our home, against the instructions to our son for what was to happen or not happen while we were gone.

I felt like “Papa Bear” coming home to find that someone had roamed through the house — eating our porridge, sleeping in our beds, and wreaking havoc on our furniture. I felt it, because it happened.  As a matter of fact, I learned that about forty kids were in our home that weekend. They played in the whirlpool, ate our food, emptied the cupboards, and tracked mud throughout the house. They broke my stereo system, played with our computers and searched through our drawers and closets.

My privacy was violated, and our desires for what should and should not happen in our home were trashed. I wasn’t too happy with my son.

Because I work with teens, and feel I understand them fairly well, the major issue for me wasn’t that a group of kids got together to have some outrageous fun at my house. That kind of thing happens all the time. The big deal for me was disrespect; my belongings were missing, and my son allowed unfamiliar friends to ignore what he and I had supposedly agreed upon. People I didn’t know invaded my space, intruded on my privacy, and even stole from me. The whole escapade was disrespectful, and a violation of my boundaries.

I realized that if I didn’t want the same thing to happen again, then my wife and I needed to reinforce and strengthen the boundaries for our son.

What Do Boundaries Have to Do With Respect?

Boundaries are like fences. They define your space, and tell others where they can and cannot go in a relationship. A good analogy comes from keeping horses…if a horse breaks through the fence, it is the responsibility of the fence-maker to build it stronger. A good fence helps both the horse and his owner to live in safety and harmony. Likewise, when personal boundaries are violated, it’s time to reinforce some relational fences.

Here are some of the boundaries in our home that were violated by our son that weekend:

1) We will treat one another’s feelings, property and privacy with respect.

2) We will not lie, cheat or spread falsehoods.

3) We will not allow underage drinking, smoking or explicit activities in our home.

4) We will not allow others in our home without a parent’s knowledge and approval.

After the “weekend” incident, my son spent a few days cleaning up the mess in our home and in our yard. Moreover, he learned he could not make a mess of our relationship by allowing disrespect to become part of his thinking and behavior. He learned again about our boundaries and paid the consequences for breaking down those fences. In the end, our relationship grew stronger because we worked on it together.

Why is respect so important? It’s because respect is the cornerstone for discipline and relationships in the home. All else fails or gets short-circuited in teaching a child about maturity and responsibility when they don’t understand the concept of respect. When parents require respectful behavior, it helps the teen to be more respectful of others, and that’s a cornerstone for success in his life.

Respect must be a pivotal boundary in your home, so make it clear to your children that you are serious about it by backing up your words with stiff consequences for any form of disrespect. Then, be sure to follow through on those consequences, since they will undoubtedly be tested.

Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston is the founder and executive director of Heartlight Ministries, a residential counseling facility for adolescents in crisis. He is also a popular radio host and speaker and leads parenting seminars across the country. He and his wife, Jan, have served families and counseled youth for more than 40 years. They have two grown children and four grandchildren.

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