Children Need To Learn Respect

Vincent and his co-missionary Thom with the Maasai family that they lived with for about two months.
Vincent and his co-missionary Thom with the Maasai family that they lived with for about two months.

In our culture, I (Vincent) am noticing a lack of respect, especially in children. This is alarmingly since disrespectful children will become disrespectful teenagers, and then disrespectful young adults.

Our American culture is trending toward de-emphasizing this respect for adults or humans in general. We are abandoning our methods of teaching children respect. Other cultures have ways of teaching children about respect that we could learn from.

In 1995, I spent a couple of months in the summer in Kenya. I lived with a pastor’s family in a house with mud walls. This pastor was a part of the Maasai tribe.

In Kenya, there are over 100 tribes, and they all have different tribal languages. Of course, Swahili is the national language and English is the official language. With each tribe, there are different customs.

In comparison to the other tribes, the Maasai are less assimilated. They have some unique customs. One of them is the greeting that the children give the adults.

“This simple act shows respect to the adult.”

When an adult approaches a Maasai child, the child will come forward and tilt their head slightly forward saying “Suppa”. The adult responses by saying “Ippa” and touching the top of their head.

This simple act shows respect to the adult. The child is acknowledging that they are their elder and that the adult deserves respect. The child learns to do this to all adults. So whether they like the adult or not, they give them this respect.

Thom with Maasai
My co-missionary Thom in a Maasai village learning the customs, of which respect and honor are very important.

Where Is the Respect for Adults and Authority?

In the United States or westernized cultures in general, it seems that children are not being taught respect as maybe they once were. In the South where I live, children are or were taught to say “Sir” and “Ma’am” when they addressed adults.

When I worked at a children’s home in South Carolina, I was in my early 20’s – 21 to 23. The children (every child that resided there from 4 to 19 years old) addressed me as “Mr. Vince”. They addressed every adult worker there with a “Mr., Mrs., or Ms.”. The children were taught to respect their elders.

“Sons and daughters are frequently talking back to their parents, interrupting conversations, and disregarding their authority.”

As I counsel and talk to teachers and other professionals who work with children, there seems to be a decline in the formal greetings that children give adults. Less students are addressing teachers with respect. Sons and daughters are frequently talking back to their parents, interrupting conversations, and disregarding their authority. Children speak with other adults like waiters, store clerks, postmen, cashiers, etc. as if they are their peers.

So what does the Bible say about children respecting their elders? In Ephesians 6, Paul says “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

In Exodus, the Bible says,”Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”

Ways for Children to Respect Adults

The Bible is very clear in both the old and new testaments that elders and parents should be respected and honored. So what are some appropriate ways to teach children to respect their elders? Below are a few suggestions:

1.) Not talking back to parents in disrespectful way.

Children and tweens need to learn to control their mouth before they become teenagers. Appropriate punishment should be administered to them when they verbally disrespect a parent.

2.) Not interrupting a conversation between adults.

Children should learn the appropriate time to speak. If they do not learn that it is inappropriate to interrupt adults, then more than likely they will not be respectful to peer conversations. Consequently, they may struggle to make friends.

3.) Asking to be dismissed from the dinner table.

This act shows respect to the cook and the provider. The dinner may not be completely served. Or there may be important conversations to be had. This shows appreciation for the food provided.

4.) Addressing adults with Mr., Mrs., or Ms.

In Philippians 2:3, Paul encourages us to imitate Christ by saying, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant that yourselves.” The formal addresses is a way of treating others as more significant than yourself.

5.) Saying “Thank you”, “No Thank you,” “Please”, and “May I”.

Note that all of these phases are or are part of imperative statements. Imperative statements can come across as harsh (what I would characterize as aggressive) if they are not encapsulated with love. These phases help to show appreciation or tone down otherwise harsh statements.

6.) Paying attention to an adult when they are speaking to them.

If a child is distracted when an adult is addressing, they give the nonverbal message that the adult is not important. Adults and authority are important and a child needs to know this. If they do not respect human authority, how can they respect God’s authority or have reverence toward him.

7.) Answering an adult when they ask a question.

Children need to learn to answer questions with a “Yes” or a “No” – in the south, preferably using a “Yes, sir” and a “Yes, ma’am”. These small statements not only show respect to the adult, but they cause the children to take ownership of their decisions.

When a child gives a non-committal shoulder shrug or head bob, sometimes it can be hard to interpret. They can easily say later on that they didn’t want such and such. But a definitive “Yes” causes them to be responsible for their decisions. This helps them to be more confident in their decision making as they mature.

Manners Are Important

“A child that respects adults regardless of the circumstances learns to respect life, humanity, God, and themselves.”

These “good manners” may seem small and irrelevant, but that is far from the truth. By teaching children to respect adults in these seemingly small ways, a parent is actually molding the child’s heart and shaping the child’s attitude toward people and humanity.

A child that respects adults regardless of the circumstances learns to respect life, humanity, God, and themselves. They learn self-respect.

They learn that every human life is a reflection of God and should be treated with honor and dignity. These “good manners” are not small, but instead they are huge in grand scheme of life.

Are your children disrespectful? Would you like more information about family counseling to address these issues? Or may you disagree with your spouse on manners and respect and are in need of marriage counseling. Feel free to contact us.

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