Respect can be considered both positively and negatively. Positively, it means we esteem someone as worthy of special recognition. We may call them Mr. and Mrs. or refer to them as sir and ma’am. We also defer to them, remaining silent as they speak, standing when they enter a room, or offering them our chair. Considerated negatively, it means we give care and attention to avoid violating personal and social norms and conventions. We wouldn’t yell at a teacher in the classroom or say, “Hey dude,” to the high school principal or university president.
Respect is taught to children at home, and more is usually caught then taught. That is, our children watch our behavior toward social customs and toward people, and over time they catch our attitudes toward them as well.
If our children see us talking during the pledge of allegiance, the communion service at church, or during the principal’s opening remarks at graduation, they will conclude that these social customs are not really very important, and they can disrupt them as well. No matter how often they hear, “You need to be quiet and respectful during these times,” from other people, they will miss the importance of it if they don’t see respect modeled in their parents’ behavior. They will regard it as funny to disrupt serious and solemn occasions, and will experience bonding with their equally disrespectful and rebellious peers.
Likewise, if our children see us behave disrespectfully to other people, people that deserve our respect, they will never develop the honor toward them that they should. How do we talk about our children’s teachers, coaches, and other adults in their presence? If we are always verbally denouncing them, our children will pick up on that spirit, and will feel free to do so as well. Even if we are right in our position, isn’t it important that we maintain a level of respect, even for the person we are in disagreement with?
If a teacher or coach is doing a poor job, or mishandled a situation, we may need to intervene with the proper officials and discuss it. But, we also need to model a level of respect toward them for the character development of our children. There may be times when it is more beneficial to suffer some mistreatment than it is to undermine the proper channels of respect and honor. If we lose those channels, we lose cohesion as a society. One early indicator of that is the public school classroom.
If you hear your children speak in degrading terms about an adult, it is important to find out why they feel that way. But, it is equally important, perhaps even more so, to stop the disrespectful speech and insist that they discuss the other person and situation in ways that are more appropriate for their age and situation in life.
Numerous times I’ve observed, during 32 years of working with churches, that when parents become disrespectful to other people at church, by either speaking badly of them, or gossiping, that their children pick up on that attitude and soon mimic that behavior. The greatest part of that tragedy is not just that the young people become disrespectful to some adults at church, but that they begin to lose respect for the whole concept of church, worship, and spiritual development. Since they have in effect have become judges of the church, and are positioned such that they feel they can be disrespectful toward it and its people, why do they need to attend a church anymore? So our disrespect not only breeds more disrespect, it breed death.
In the book, Reverence, Paul Woodruff wrote, “A remarkable feature of virtues is that you cannot argue people into having them when they do not,” and “In matters of character, strength leads to strength, and one lapse leads to another” (pp.24 & 25). In other words, a spirit of respect won’t just happen; it must be developed over time. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:7, “Give everyone what you owe him ... if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
What are ways you try to teach, model and produce respect in your home?