Psychology: Good old-fashioned respect

Some guidelines on the values we can all impart to the next generation.

Family cartoon 521 (photo credit: Courtesy/MCT)
Family cartoon 521
(photo credit: Courtesy/MCT)
I was finishing this column just as issues about respect exploded in the news. My emphasis here had been on teaching children, but given what has been going on, it looks like these lessons need to be taught to both children and adults. So perhaps “where on the bus men and women should sit” should take a “back seat” and instead teaching people to give up their seat on the bus to those in need, regardless of sex, should take precedence.
And speaking of sex, while I advocate neither wearing a burka nor walking around the streets half clad, the goal ultimately should be respect for one’s body and not taking anything to the extreme. And while I am on the topic of extreme, instead of spitting at people, perhaps it is high time to stop terrorizing others but rather look at ways in which we can treat our fellow neighbors just as we ourselves would like to be treated – with mutual tolerance. Having gotten that off my chest, I can finally go back to my column!
Call me old-fashioned. I am the first to admit it. I miss the good old days. Not that I’m so old, or even “old school,” but I do think that raising children to be polite and respectful young adults is important. My parents, of blessed memory, were firm and consistent and I think we benefited. When I listen in the schoolyard and on the street, and hear how teachers and grandparents are spoken to, I sometimes wonder where their parents are and what they are thinking as they raise their children.
Sadly, it often seems that parents are afraid of their children, afraid to say “no” and set limits. Trust me, from where I sit, this word and a few others like “please,” “thank-you,” “yes” and “can I help you?” need to enter our vocabulary and ultimately theirs. If you don’t teach your children, with love and with consistency, how to behave, then who will?
Why are manners and respect so important? If you don’t learn to respect others and don’t respect yourself, why would anyone else respect you? If you don’t have respect for yourself, you won’t feel good about yourself. Unhappy kids create issues for everyone and all of us must begin to take responsibility for each other, especially our children.
At a recent talk I gave on grandparenting, many expressed concern that their grandchildren didn’t even get up to welcome them when they arrived or walk them to the door when leaving and often said “no” when asked to do things. I would never have thought to say no to my parents, let alone my grandparents.
While I certainly believe in the importance and necessity of giving our children a voice and valuing their opinion and having an open discussion, I do believe they need to know that the adult makes the final decision. While you may try to be your child’s friend, the goal is not to have an equal partnership but rather to parent them.
So, while I am not that old, when I went to school we called teachers Mr. or Mrs., stood by the side of our desk when they walked in and even raised our hand and waited to be called upon before we spoke.
Today many children call their teachers by their first names, call out (to be heard), and put their feet up on the desks, along with their cell phones, which they don’t hesitate to answer or use to send text messages in the middle of class.
Today, boundaries are blurred. Not only are teachers called by their first names, but friends of parents and yes, even parents, are sadly called by their first names by their children. I confess to being a firm and consistent parent. I set limits, say no when I need to, and our children actually ask before they sit in our seats.
So here are a few guidelines: • Be a good role model. Be polite to your neighbors, children’s teachers and others. Show calmness and kindness and tolerance when driving the car, when interacting with shopkeepers and when dealing with service providers. A smile goes a long way. Tell people you appreciate what they do. Teach your children, for example, to bring out water when it’s hot to the men cleaning your street to say thanks for doing such a great job.
• As a couple, work together to teach values that you admire in others. If you disagree with how your partner parents, don’t do it at your child’s expense. Talk about your differences away from the kids.
• Show your children that you value and are interested in what they say. When you are with them, be fully present. Ask the same of them. The phone can wait. Acknowledge if you are wrong and praise them when they’re well-mannered and respectful. Surprise them with a note in their lunchbox telling them how proud you are of them for things they did. Have a date with one child and observe them acting respectful.
• Be consistent. Don’t be afraid to set limits. Kids need rules and structure even if they tell you they don’t.
• Show and tell your children that you love them. We never end a phone call or the day without saying it. Life is short. Spend time together by eating meals as a family, playing games and sharing dreams. Independence is overrated and kids often feel left out and alone. Kids thrive when they feel connected to others. We are one community.
• Turn off technology. My parents and their friends were much less stressed than we are. Letters took weeks to arrive, not seconds, and people were not available anywhere, anytime, and that was fine!
• Teach children to walk their friends to the door, to say thank you when they receive something, to offer to carry groceries, hold open a door, not get in an elevator till someone gets out and to wait in line. Check that you do the same.
• Curfews are important. Children do not need to stay out all night. Trust me, you better know what they are doing, even on their cell phones and computers.
There is a wonderful book I read to my children when they were little. It points out things we shouldn’t do like throw garbage out the car window, feed animals when we’re told not to, etc. What would happen if instead everybody showed respect to others? The results could be amazing.
Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. Send correspondence to or visit her website at Her book, Life’s Journey, Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts, has recently been published by Devora Publishers.