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Tuesday, June 10, 2008


How Do We Teach Respect and Responsibility?

There is a culture of wanting to be a friend to young people that pervades parenting and education in this country. If the adults charged with shaping the character of young people feel the need to “connect” with them on a more informal level, is that damaging to the position of the adult—the respect component? How do we teach responsibility? Caring people are called to guide children, but can that caring do more harm than good if it enables youngsters to continue irresponsible behavior such as parents giving too much help to children with homework or administrators letting bad behavior go without consequences because they have a soft spot for the student? Are we doing too much for our children?

When I was a student at Sammamish High School in the 1960s we had a running joke about what the principal, Mr. Torgeson, looked like. He was either in his office with the door shut or out of the building at a meeting. I joked that he didn't exist, but to coin a Dana Carvy Cranky Old Man phrase, “we liked it that way.” I don’t know what the vice principal had done during WWII, but I suspect it was drill sergeant. He was in charge of discipline. Cruising the halls during classes, Mr. Cherry looked for people skipping class. We tried hard not to be noticed by Mr. Cherry and as long as we weren’t, we liked it that way. These gentlemen did not attempt to “connect” with students. We had caring teachers and councilors who did that despite the fact that they expected respect and for the most part we were a pretty well behaved lot. If the administration wanted to connect with students it was liable to be at the business end of a paddle which brings to mind the cherry bomb in the boys’ toilet incident of the 100 wing. I don’t remember what happened there. Now before you run me out of the Neighborhood on a rail, let me say that I’m not advocating corporal punishment, but I believe that we may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater when American adults decided to be pals to their children. What happened to standing up when an adult enters the room and removing hats and caps when entering institutions for which we are supposed to have respect? What does this culture of being friends with your children do to educators when the “everyone’s a winner” and “you’re all perfect little snowflakes” children reach school? So how do we teach respect and responsibility? How do we make them pick up after themselves and do their homework?


Kim Thompson said...

Hi Stephanie:

Back at Lowell Elementary in 1970's, as students, we were all very aware of the wood paddle and no one wanted to get a "hack." "Hack"--what a word!

The other thing we learned back in my school days is that you don't always win, you're not always the best. We learned how to deal with disappointment and that it was okay, in those kinds of events you will go on. I coach my own kids on this concept.

In the era of helicopter parenting, pushing too hard, and trying being pals, respect is going to slip; it's inevitable. The remedy is this in my mind:

1. Let the kids fall down a bit. They'll get hurt, but they'll survive.

2. Don't push your kids into tons of activities, nor let THEM push themselves into a bunch of stuff. Kids need down time, play time, thinking time, and yes, even a little boredom time.

3. Adults in certain roles (parents in particular)need to have more defined roles and less blurred ones.

Is that the fix Steph--well, it's a start.

Stephanie Frieze said...

Last night my daughter-in-law talked extensively about this. Actually, it's been running theme around our house for days. We talked about the fact that feeling shame is not bad. Certainly browbeating a child is wrong, but constant praise is harmful, too. A little shame about wrong-doing is healthy just like your remark about boredom. As the first of the "everyone's a winner" generation are entering the work force they are discovering that bosses don't give out positive strokes on a daily basis. Maybe never. This has led to depression for the darlings who are used to being told how special they are.

Teaching children to deal with failure, to have respect for people who have lived a while in the world, and to be responsibility for themselves and their actions is the greatest give we can give to the community and country.

Thanks for your comments, Kim.

Pat Kurz said...

I had a longer comment, but my password got bollixed up. Here's the gist:

How about telling your kids, "no," once in a while? My students react with shock when they hear it from me.

Stephanie Frieze said...

I believe the use of the "no" word was discarded when the "Honey, I want to be your friend" came into vogue.

Here's something that's been rattling around in my brain this afternoon. If we do not demand respect for ourselves as adults, how can we demand that children/students show respect for one another. And what about a student who uses a racial remark and gets fifteen minutes of detention? What's up with that?

kinsmed said...

And our generation is left in the middle.
My grandfather more than once spouted, 'children should be seen and not heard' and his abuse once spilled over into kicking me down a hall.
Now if I tell kids to stop racing cars down the street, I'm threatened that I can be accused as a child molester.
I'm left trying to figure out what horrors the next generation will endure from ITS children.

Stephanie Frieze said...

You raise a very good point, Kinsmed, about the off-spring of the "everyone's a winner" generation. I know many lovely young people, but as a group they can be rude and disrespectful because their parents have not demanded it of them. Pat is right. They ought to be told "no" occasionally. When parents, teachers and administrators demand respect I believe they will get it. Frequently undesirable behaviors increase initially when attempting to extinguish them, but if you have one more "no" than the child--and it only takes one--it is possible. I'm just afraid that parents aren't on board and then the problem gets passed on to schools who have to deal with the behaviors.

JosephMcG said...

Two things might help adults to become real human beings who deserve respect and can help their children to live caring, self-loving, and compassionate lives...
to respect themselves and others

first: living an integrated life, where our thinking and our feeling work together so that we daily choose to think, speak, and act in ways that are healthy...
where our bodies are nourished, our minds opened to all reality around us (including that our world is always quite fragile and nuclear war, environmental waste, our own personal, family, and communal isolation are keeping us from meeting life's challenges and life's giftedness in ways that we feel safe, emotionally satisfied, mentally aware of what is happening to ourselves and others in the moment, and spiritually committed to sharing our persons and our gifts with others...

2. facing that someday each one of us will die and that this moment is the only moment we have to enjoy the pains and joys of having to eat, let go of the material and emotional waste within us, let other people support us, and share our material and personal gifts with others in such a way that our world is a better place because we lived here

in other words, if we want respect, we have to daily choose to respect ourselves and all living things around us

Aura Mae said...

Hold on to your hats, kids, Mean Auntie Aura is in the house.

I am the enforcer in the family. I am the one who isn't concerned about hurting the "wittle feewings" of the wretched beasts we call children.

Things I have said to the nieces and nephews and children of my friends recently:

Get off the banister.

Either put on your life jacket or get out of the water this instant.

Since when do I care what you want?

Your mother may fall for that nonsense, but not me.

Do I need to get out the duct tape to keep you in your seat?

My daughter heard "No" so much that I wondered if she thought it was her middle name (Nina, No!)

This batch of kids has been coddled and nurtured like they are delicate little flowers.

What they have become is whining little monsters who think that if they didn't get a new iPod for Christmas they are disadvantaged.

I have a dream:

All 6th graders will spend a summer working for Habitat for Humanity or a food bank or anything that will show them how spoiled they are and how good they have it and how appreciative they should be of the blessings they have.

Rant over.

JosephMcG said...

Aura Mae... my oh my... there is a whole lot of love (Habitat for Humanity... huh... THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT)
Keep that pin smoking...

Kim Thompson said...

So, Aura Mae, how do you really feel? I worry about your shyness.


I love your idea for a 6th grade project! Districts, are you listening?

Stephanie Frieze said...

There are communities where children are seldom told "no" and spend their summers on tours of Europe or on a boat out on the Sound. These are the kids who even at high school cannot pick up their trash or sometimes engage in slurs to those they think don't fit into the community.