Why Isn’t Respect a Two-Way Street with Children?

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen them around.  It seems you can’t swing a dead mouse pointer these days without hitting one of those inspirational-quote-on-pretty-background graphics. People post them like crazy. “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels!” “Believe in yourself!” “Eat at Joe’s!” Well, that last one, not so much.

I don’t mind this, usually. I think I’ve managed to curate my Facebook Friends List enough that I can avoid the ones that I find offensive.  The worst that I get now are the ones that merely bother me. Oh wait, here’s one now:


At first glance, really there’s no trouble.  As is the case with most of the platitudes we get from Christian leaders, it makes sense on the surface. It feeds into our deep-seated assumption that children need to be respectful to their parents. That’s in the Bible even, right? Even more so it massages the ego of the older generation. You know, really it’s just logical. I think I’ll post it.

And so we share it, and wonder why some of our friends take issue with it. Wait… why are you upset?

Well, I suppose it’s a good question. The answer lies within our idea of respect and who exactly should be respected.

Consider two peers. Let’s say they are co-workers. There is an expectation of respect between the two. Usually an observer would assume there is something wrong with one or both of them if there is not a mutual consideration of opinions and perspectives. If one does not know the answer to the question, he or she may ask the other. If disagreements take place, verbal or physical violence would be cause for concern. One may communicate needs or requests to the other, and it would be uncommon for this to be done in the form of a demand. There is a common denominator of behavior that is expected between two people in society, we often call it “decency”.

Oftentimes however, two people are not peers. Does this decency disappear in this case? It may not be quite as “mutual”, but most people would still expect both to treat each other in this fashion. A manager that barks everything as a command rather than communicating calmly and respectfully is quickly denigrated and disparaged behind his/her back. This behavior is considered aberrant by most “decent” folks in society, even in a relationship of unbalanced authority between adults.

However, speak about respect in the context of children and the fabric of reality starts to warp. Ask any Baby Boomer if they respect and honor the children around them and they will likely laugh at you. “Respect? My children are foolish and immature,” they might say, “they say the darnedest things, sometimes.” “I can’t even begin to take their opinions seriously.” “Children should be seen, not heard.” These human beings are evidently not deserving of common decency.

But where do we get this strange concept of unrequited respect for parents? Can we blame our Bibles? While it is true that children are instructed to honor and obey their parents in both Exodus and Ephesians, this command is followed (at least in Ephesians) by what I believe to be reciprocal and complimentary instructions to parents. Are children, by definition, not worthy of basic human dignity?

Why specifically the parents? Why is it one-way? Why teach children that they should respect older people and only expect respect from younger people? Don’t you think we’re only teaching children to respect people who demand it? Why assume that children are the only ones learning anything from an encounter?

Expecting common decency from children is one thing. We should expect that from every human being and children should expect it from us. That is the piece that is missing from quotes like these. Do we want children to grow up thinking that only certain people, namely folks from the previous generation, should be respected? Would it not be better to demonstrate to them that all human beings, including them, should be treated with respect, dignity and decency?

Or is this just a convenient way to use your children for your own ego? Give it a thought, anyway.


2 thoughts on “Why Isn’t Respect a Two-Way Street with Children?

  1. I remember trying to say this to my parents when I was a kid, and obviously not knowing how to articulate.
    “We’re supposed to love our neighbors and you’re not treating me like a person.”
    I was laughed at….
    “You don’t think we treat you like a human?”

    “That’s not what I mean!”

    Thanks for this post. We as humans like to pick on those weaker than is, and kids unfortunately get the brunt of it frequently, and in ways that are totally politically correct and acceptable in society.


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