Today’s Generation Gap: Respect

A reporter called me to ask for an op-ed piece addressing the topic, “What Has Happened to Respect.”  The reporter said that he was contacting several well known speakers in the field of education & parenting to ask why we think children have less respect for adults than in past generations.  I believe that in every generation, people of my age disapprove of differences in the attitudes of youth.  I wondered, however, how younger people see themselves.  I have now had multiple groups of teens tell me that they agree – their generation has no respect for adults.  They say that their peers do not respect authority.  In my small sample, I was surprised to learn that the generations agree in a change of the level of respect and they agree that it isn’t good for our society.

Why the change in attitude toward each other and those in authority?  We learn so much of our world view and socialization lessons when we are very young.  In order to figure out what might have changed, we need to look at the experience of this younger generation from the time they were preschoolers.  What have they seen, done and been encouraged to do by their parents and teachers?

  1. They are living in a time when insecurities and fear make parents defensive.  Gone are the days when a school calls home and the parent turns to the child to say, “What did you do?”  Can school administrators and teachers make mistakes?  Yes.  Can your child make an error in judgment?  Yes.  There was a time when adults believed other adult perceptions of a situation enough even to just question their children.  Today, parents are very defensive.  Most human behavior stems from fear and insecurity and this is no different.  It is okay if your children make a mistake.  It is even okay if the authorities are not entirely correct and you teach your child that this is life.  Someday, the boss won’t be fair all the time either so try to do the right thing and stay out of the fray as much as possible.  We are not teaching life skills when we don’t teach children to cope with the trials and tribulations of dealing with the reactions of others.  I am amazed at the young children who know that their Mommy and Daddy won’t care when the school calls. 
  2. They see people bashing other people and institutions all the time.  It’s in the news.  It’s on social media.  It’s part of the culture.  Not happy with someone?  Make it public. Other people will like it and tweet it and give you an emoji thumbs up.  I can’t even get into what teens are seeing in politics. Think about how many examples they have of dignity and dignified people engaging in intelligent and respectful conversation.  Hmmmmm….
  3. They have been calling authority figures by first name since they were in preschool which creates a perception of equality regardless of age or status. In my opinion, early childhood centers of all types have made a terrible mistake.  They have allowed young children to call their teachers by first name.  If we are preparing children for the years to come, this makes no sense.  No one goes to kindergarten and calls their teacher “Miss Julie.”  You don’t find 5th graders calling the teacher “Mr. Bobby.”  We are, therefore, not properly preparing them.  I have asked teachers and school directors why they use first names and they tell me that it is friendlier and easier to pronounce. No. Untrue.  I spent years with very young students calling me “Mrs. Terebush.”  They felt loved, safe and secure with me.  They enjoyed school and their time with me.  They could say “Terebush.”  After all, if they can say “metamorphisis” when we teach about butterflies, why do we assume they can’t say “Smith” or “Goldstein”? Set up the notion that there are, in fact, differences between students and teachers.
  4. They call their classmates’ and friends’ parents by first name, too.  I’ve seen 2 year olds refer to their classmates’ parents as “Liz” and “Joanne.”  Folks, it is okay for children to learn respect for elders by respectfully addressing you. People did it for generations.  It doesn’t make you old or uncool (see you can still be friendly in the paragraph above).  It makes you a teacher of socially acceptable behavior.  I have two grown children and I smile when their friends meet me and say, “Hello, Mrs. Terebush.”  They were raised well.  I do not tell them, “Call me Cindy.”  I am not their friend and I don’t need to be.  I have friends my own age.  They can call me “Cindy.”  

You may wonder why I am writing this article if I was asked for an op-ed on this topic.  I haven’t scooped the story at all.  In the op-ed version, I wrote about why children have a greater sense of entitlement today, the fact that institutions are expected to change for every individual and the erroneous messages people have gotten from mistaking equity with equality and visa versa. The article has an entirely different set of reasons for a trend of diminished respect that simply isn’t making this a better world.  There are woefully so many reasons.  It’s true – some traditions and conventions of society stop applying and need to go.  Not this one.  Not respect.  Please bring it back.

This article is the 5th in a series about Today’s Generation Gap.  Click on the titles to read past articles:


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