I came across a short interview of a pediatrician who has noticed changes in children’s behavior over the past several decades. Most notably, he talked about children’s lack of respect, and how permissive parenting and our media culture has promoted it.
My wife, who is an elementary school teacher, has also seen this change in her students over the years. Let me give an example: Students who are disruptive are seated at a desk in the back of the room for a timeout for a short while. At the end of the day, the teacher found the words “F*ck you teacher” written on the desk. Of course, the child denied it, parents were called, and the parents immediately came to the defense of their child. “He would never do that!” “He doesn’t even know how to spell that word!”
Yesterday, my wife reprimanded a child on the playground. As she turned her back, the child said, “I want to kill that teacher.” Sent to the office, the child’s parents were called, but nothing really happened. No real corrective action was taken.
A couple of days ago, a child on the playground was reprimanded, flipped off the teacher and ran off the school grounds and had to be corralled by the local police.
All of these children are not unruly teenagers, or even pre-teens, but 7-year-olds. And, this is a school in an affluent, upper-middle class neighborhood. As my wife said, “none of this happened a decade ago.”
What are the causes?
As the pediatrician pointed out, it’s a combination of parenting that doesn’t enforce respect for others in their kids, and media and culture that encourages disrespectful behavior. For example, the pediatrician pointed out that in Disney sit-coms, the children are smart (and smart-asses) and the parents are portrayed as clueless and at the mercy of their more with-it kids.
So what should parents do?
First, promote a culture of respect for others. Parents, who are critical role models, need to be respectful themselves and monitor their own behavior. Encourage kids to show respect for both adults and their peers.
Second, have a consistent, zero-tolerance policy of disciplining a child who shows disrespect to parents, other adults, or to their peers.
What should the rest of us do? Those of us who aren’t raising young children? We should also monitor our own behavior and show respect for others. It’s only by creating a culture and society of respect that we will stop outrageous behavior in children and adults.