I’ll tell you what that means to me and I’m going to get on my soap box just a bit. When we were growing up, we were taught to respect all adults, with “yes ma’ams”, “yes sirs”, “no ma’ams” and “no sirs”, “please” and “thank yous”. Not only were we taught to respect adults, we were taught to respect ourselves and our friends. In that tradition, we have taught our children to do the same. Apparently, there are some adults who didn’t get the memo. They believe because they are an “adult” they have the right to treat people however they feel like treating them, especially younger people. We look around our world and we don’t understand some of the problems we are facing with our young people. We say they lack respect and initiative. We say they want things handed to them. We say they don’t communicate. We say they don’t know how to take constructive criticism. We say they lack the ability to see another point of view. That may be true with many young people, but have we ever stopped to wonder why that is the case?
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to several groups of young people at Bolton High School. I am in my element when speaking with teens and I always come away feeling as if I learned more than the knowledge I imparted. They were fun, funny, engaged, and appeared interested. Most of all, they were respectful, to me, to their teacher and to each other. When I told them, “Adults don’t have to respect you. Nowhere is it written that adults must respect children or young adults.”, their emotions were written all over their faces. Some looked defiant, some looked shocked that I would make that statement (because by this point in my talk we were friends), and sadly, some looked understanding. I let that sink in for a moment then added: “But they should.”
I have seen young people working their first jobs in fast food restaurants and grocery stores be completely disrespected and humiliated by “adults” for no reason other than the “adult” felt they could. I have seen young people in the most awkward stage of their lives trying to learn social skills in the adult world and being polite to strangers only to be ignored as if their existence didn’t matter. I have seen young people goaded by teachers and other authority figures, backed into a corner until they are either reduced to tears or come out fighting, either scenario teaching the wrong lesson. When we as “adults” are confronted with disrespect from someone, our first reaction is often to go into a defensive mode. Young people are no different. We can teach them to be respectful, but until we respect them, they will never understand the true meaning of the word or the concept.
As “adults” out there, we need to take a moment, remember our teen years and the next time we are checking out at the grocery store, tell the clerk, “I’m fine, how are you today?” when they politely ask how our day was. Or, to the young person taking our order at a fast food restaurant, tell them “Thank you” and throw in a “Have a nice day” for good measure. Better yet, they all wear name tags; mention their name. It only takes a moment of our time to be respectful to someone and it could make the difference between a great day and a terrible day to a young person. They can not give what they don’t have. Give it to them and I promise you will get it back—maybe not that day, maybe not next week but somewhere in the future, respectfulness will show up and perhaps that world will look a little different than the one we are in now.