Anyone else dealing with the snarky, no-respect attitudes of summer?

My son told me his arms hurt this morning because he did so many push ups, i.e., today’s consequence for disrespect. I may have mentioned that his arms might want to have a little talk with his mouth. (Which admittedly may be a little snarky on its own.)

Respect doesn’t come naturally to humans. We’ve been rebels from the get-go.

The culture of parenting has changed, too. We’ve closed the gap to be more approachable, gentle, and aware of kids’ emotions than ever before. But in bringing kids closer for emotional nurture, it’s all too easy to lose authority and respect.

Culture sets a low bar here. But God sets it high.

In teaching kids respect, we’re showing them appropriate ways to respond to Him and other authority figures throughout their lifetimes. It’s a key that will open a lot of doors for them, and might pluck their scrawny necks from situations that get hairy fast, like that teacher with a short fuse, or the officer pulling them over.

Why respect?

The need for respectful obedience isn’t some excuse to dominate. This is about God’s kingdom and honor, not ours! He’s said the position of parent is one worthy of honor. Then He commanded kids to uphold that. It’s the first commandment God attaches to a reward. (Though for our part as parents, we’re not to exasperate them. Check out Ephesians 6:1-4.)

Requiring respect of authority is a gift we give our kids. We teach them to trust the order God has in place—even when they can’t understand all the whys. It’s a fundamental part of learning humility, too.

God doesn’t really pull any punches on this:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-3)

What can we practically do?

1. Respond how you’d like to be responded to.

I’m also giving myself a consequence for the times I’m not being self-controlled in my own responses: 10 push ups when I’m out of line. (Now completed three times. Not my finest hour. But I’m going to have killer biceps.)

Why would a mother do that?

Author and pastor Danny Silk writes that “powerful” people “deliberately set the standard for how they expect to be treated by the way they treat others. As they consistently act in responsible, respectful, and loving ways, it becomes clear that the only people who can get close to them are those who know how to show respect, be responsible, and love well.”

To be clear, I don’t think we should keep our kids at arms’ length if they’re not respectful. I’m reluctant to attach kids’ behavior to their worthiness for relational connection.

But I’ve found my consequences need to be self-controlled on my part—like a police officer pulling you over, come to think of it. Remember: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

2. Ask kids to acknowledge any request immediately with “Yes, Dad,” or “Yes, Mom.”

This sets the stage for obedience in lieu of protests, backtalk, and melodramatic sighing resembling deflating tires.

Since my kids were small, I’ve found Ginger Hubbard’s mantra so helpful: Obey all the way, right away, with a joyful heart. It’s the upshot of Philippians 2:14-15: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure ‘children of God'” (NIV)

3. Teach the “respectful plea.”

One of my repeated famous lines: My name is not “But Mom.” Even when my kids disagree, I ask them to begin with “Yes, Mom,” and then present a calm defense.

The problem isn’t with disagreement. It’s usually that kids’ hearts aren’t placing themselves beneath authority. They’re taking issue with the fifth commandment.

Of course, the right words don’t mean our hearts are in line. But the right words and actions can change us, tugging our hearts along with them.

4. Don’t let them interrupt.

Kids aren’t listening if they’re talking. Interrupting is very rarely showing deference. Ask kids to wait until someone’s done speaking.

My kids know they can place a hand on my shoulder if I’m in conversation. I place my hand on theirs to let them know I’ve seen their signal and try to hurry up in order to respect their waiting.

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5. Dial it back a couple of generations.

Would my grandpa find it respectful? If not, I may be able to set the bar higher, and help my kids step out of a cultural weakness.

Kids’ media, too, finds disrespect pretty funny sometimes—but God doesn’t. Sometimes I need to strap a little metaphorical duct tape on media, having them cut back.

6. Embed it in the “animal” part of the brain.

Disrespect can become an impulsive habit. Like controlling an addiction, the first step must be that kids realize they’re doing it—and that’s a problem. To do this, consequences need to be larger and more immediate. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we’re instilling negative association in the brain, wiring disrespect with consequence.

So rather than extra chores (which may be a great option) or a less-immediate consequence, I’m currently still in the “immediate recognition” phase. My children have a physical consequence for disrespect. Today, that’s push ups, wall sits, or laps around the yard.

7. Give ‘em a redo.

Kids are learning. Help them develop replacement scripts by allowing them to rephrase if they’re whining or rude. You might have them wait two minutes if they’re requesting something.

(Tip: Differentiate between the request and the tone. “You can ask me to make lunch. That’s fine. But don’t demand that I make lunch.”)

As spouses, stick up for each other: “You can’t talk to your dad like that. Redo.” Advocating for the respect of your position can get tedious and long. It helps when someone’s sticking up for you.

8. But ultimately, realize this is an issue of the heart.

Jesus says famously, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Like a cup of orange juice, when the cup is bumped, only OJ sloshes over the side. What’s coming out of the mouth is a direct reflection of kids’ hearts.

Though we want to train behavior, their disrespect originates as a heart problem. Treat symptoms only, and you’ve still got disease.

Beneath that annoying disrespect is actually the cancer of rebellion and pride. Our kids, like their parents, are great at “King Me.” We want to run our own lives! It’s what Satan had in his heart—to be like the Most High.

Typically, shaping the heart happens better when we ask questions designed to expose what’s underneath. This is so our kids can take ownership for what stinks, rather than ownership thrust upon them. (Though I have no problem with calling my kids out.) Examples:

  • What do you think your heart attitude’s like right now?
  • What attitude are you communicating with words like that?
  • How could you rephrase what you just said in a way that’s respectful?
  • What does your heart want to do rather than obey right now? (If you feel comfortable, this can be a way to talk about our hearts’ idols—things or attitudes constantly taking the place of God and His ways of doing life.)

Don’t give up.

Remember when you were teaching your kids to say “please” and “thank you” … and you were asking literally 25 times a day? That’s over 9,000 times a year per kid. But you knew it was worth it.

Don’t give up on respect. Your kids are home for the summer, and it’s a prime opportunity to disciple them in ways that will pay off over a lifetime.


Copyright © 2019 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.

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