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Six Things to Know about Teens and Respect

teens and respect

by Mark Gregston

In the late 1960’s, one song simply titled Respect, launched the meteoric career of a young artist from Tennessee and raced to the top of the music charts.  Originally written and recorded by Otis Redding a few months prior to Aretha Franklin’s lively rendition, the song has become an anthem for people all over the world.  It’s a soulful, popular song that addresses a topic all men, women, and children struggle with—disrespect

For most of us, I don’t have to describe what it looks like.  We’ve seen it or felt in one way or another over the years from people who do not know how to be polite or kind.  And sadly, for some, disrespect is a way of life.  But!  It doesn’t have to be that way for you and your family.  You can address disrespect and train or re-train your child on how to be respectful, even in their teen years.  It’s your goal as a parent to teach your children about respect in the earlier years so that you can help train them on it in their teen and adolescent years.  To learn more, read on because we’ll be addressing the six things every parent needs to know about teens and respect. 

Six Things to Know 

As I mentioned before, respect doesn’t happen on its own.  It has to be taught and trained.  Mandates of “you will respect me,” will not only be met with resistance, they’ll be ignored.  Wisdom is gathered through observation, reflection, and experience.  So, how your child observes you interact with the world and the people in it, will cause them to reflect on what they saw, and then that reflection will trickle down to how they experience relationships.  So, if we are respectful with and of others, then our children will pick up how to be respectful, too. 

The first step is realizing that respect is foundational.  If you don’t treat someone with admiration and affection, you won’t have a good relationship.  And the key to this is that it starts with you, mom and dad, not your child.  Consider how you’ve modeled disrespect for others.  How do you treat your spouse?  Your boss?  Your friends?  And then consider how you treat authority.  There’s no lack of poor examples in this arena.  So, what are you modelling for your kids? 

Next, you have to know that you can’t bully your child into giving you respect.  Respect must be earned.  It must be mutual, but so many parents don’t understand that concept because they have an authoritative idea of what parenting should look like.  The old “do as I say,” model is outdated and based on a model of fear.  It only leaves your teen feeling humiliated and resentful and fear is not a motivator.  Nor does it have any place in healthy relationships. 

Disrespect is the tell-tale sign that something is wrong in your relationship.  Respect grows out of relationship.  So, you need to ask yourself, what am I doing to keep my child from respecting me?  Matthew 7:5 tells us to pull the log out of our own eye before looking at the speck in our brother’s eye.  Your child is your brother or sister in Christ, so act accordingly.  It should go without saying that you don’t get to an abnormal place by having normal circumstances, so, please consider how you have contributed in causing your child’s hurt or trauma. 

Respect doesn’t happen on its own.  This is the time to really engage and go after your child’s heart.  Find out what has happened and come up with strategies to change it moving forward – and stick with it.  A lack of respect can have devastating consequences for generations to come! 

Talk about it!  Talking about respect and disrespect is healthy and when you can name the ways you’ve been disrespectful and how you’re going to change, you’re opening the door for your teenager to do the same. 

Don’t let disrespect fester.  If you don’t spend time pursuing respect, disrespect will blossom and eventually take over your life and your family.  It may not be easy, but it’s worth it!  So, keep at it. 

Some Practical Tips to Consider 

Respect is the cornerstone of any relationship.  Respecting someone means being polite and kind to someone, even when they may have a different opinion, or when they like something that you do not. 

Respect is not merely given in words, but is communicated in body language and attitudes, as well.  So, be sure to think before you speak and act. 

Create the rules you want to communicate. 

Give it time.  Keep moving forward, but know that if you’ve dug a hole, it’s going to take time and patience to pull yourself out. 

Accept your faults, apologize, and move on to make changes.  Each day we’re given is another day to make a positive difference. 

If your child is spinning out of control, remind them that you’re there for them.  Don’t engage in shouting matches and don’t shame them because shaming has never produced one great relationship. 

Finally, and most importantly, communicate with your teen.  Tell them you love them and that you’re on their side. 


Mom, Dad … respect within your home is probably the most important feeling of admiration that must be conveyed by actions and communicated by words.  Initially, it begins with the example that you set before your children and then develops into opportunities to show respect amidst conflict and difficulties.  Respect is the one essential element of a home that provides the stage for all other aspects of interaction.  Disrespect destroys relationships and if you’ve been disrespectful to your teens, then admit your attitude and begin a new path that is based on respect of all people.  Your kids will one day thank you for your example and the requirements that you made of each family member. 

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Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.