Wow, what a difference almost 60 years makes. Remember how TV families treated each other back in the “olden day”? Do you recall how TV families in the 50s all sat down and ate dinner together and talked about what went on in their days. You had these memorable shows and characters including: Leave it to Beaver – June and Ward Cleaver, The Donna Reed Show starring Donna her TV husband, Dr. Alex Reed, James and Margaret Anderson from Father’s Know Best show, and Make Room for Daddy TV show with Danny and Mrs. Kathy “Clancey” Williams.
Each of these shows reflected the “ideal” family, at that time. Mom’s who stayed at home, wore pretty pressed aprons while cooking, got up and dressed every morning, before anyone left the house for the day, like she was going to church, had supper on the table when her husband arrived home at 5:00 and deferred all decisions to her husband.
Family life is no longer that simple and well defined. Family’s meet themselves coming and going with the new configuration being both parents working and many single parent families.
Research on family stability, the state of education in this country, juvenile delinquency and an ever increasing lack of respect for authority has attributed these societal issues to the change in families and the roles families now play in the socialization of their children.
Nothing is ever quite this simple. There are many variables that can be associated with the increase in single parent families, divorces etc. but there is no doubt the change in the role of families is a significant contributor to the changes in young people’s respect for authority and others in general.
Schools are trying to take over for what families used to do — the socialization and teaching of societal values especially related to character education. Character education is defined as an intentional effort to teach fundamental values and morals which includes direct instruction on honesty, respect, responsibility, empathy, and civic duty. What this often boils down to is basic knowledge and expectations for what the famous song, sung by Aretha Franklin, R-E-S-P-E-C-T is teaching.
Many, many school systems are teaching pure and simple manners. The month of September has been designated, by many educational associations and organizations, as National Courtesy Month. Although schools teach a year long curriculum based on some form of character development, they do spend a special amount of time during the month of September to really visibly focus on manners and courtesy.
This information brings us to what can families do to resume, if they lost it, or to assume their responsibility for teaching their children respect, manners and courtesy. This might not be something parents want to hear but, the buck for their children being respectful of others starts with them. There really is no excuse that excuses a parent from this responsibility.
It doesn’t really matter how poor a family is or how many hours a day parents have to work to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Parents are responsible from the moment their child is born to be their first teachers and that includes teaching respect for others.
Since parents are their children’s first teachers and research shows children of all ages learn best by modeling, observing and example, it becomes obvious that if a child is watching their parents fight and yell at each other (and them too), they are in fact teaching that behavior.
Just telling a child not to hit, scream, or yell bad names is not teaching. The real teaching is what they see you do. The old saying, do as I say not as I do, ought to be torched in a bon fire. Children will do what you do, not what you say. Oh, you may be able to bully them into doing what you say and not what you do but, you have just taught them to be excellent bullies.
When they grow to be bigger than you they will start bullying you! They will bully their wives and husbands and children. They will bully the driver in the car behind or in front of them. They will bully teachers, neighbors, colleagues etc. If you teach your child to be a bully by your example, you earn an A+ on that and you earn a failing grade on teaching them respect.
As National Courtesy month is just around the corner, it is a good time to think about your children’s behavior and your own behavior. Are you teaching respect or are you teaching how to bully, how not to care about others feelings, how to talk back to others, how not to listen to others, how to hit when you are mad. The list of what you are teaching by your example can go on and on and on.
If you and your children have grown apart because of the pace of the lifestyle you CHOSE to live, (yes, we make the choice to be overwhelmed and over scheduled), slow down for just a minute and think about what your dream is for your child. Is it to be a successful and happy adult? If so, then they need to learn how to get along with others for this dream to come true. People can be successful and miserable at the same time. So you can’t just focus on their livelihood, you have to also help them focus on leaning respectful people skills.
Making your dream come true for your children means you open up communication about what is going on within your family. You talk about how each of you feels about being a member of your family. You talk about things each one of you can do to help all members feel good about being a member of the family. If your family has a history of verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse, you need to seek help from a trained counselor.
The behaviors your child has learned, by being a member of your kind of family, can scar their sense of self and sense of worth. When this happens, they will, more than likely, teach or repeat the same patterns of behaviors with their own family. The cycle will repeat itself and will repeat itself into multiple generations unless….you stop the cycle and start to teach respect for others in the family.
Being able to respect others outside the family begins at home. Think about seriously using National Courtesy Month in September, to start a new way of teaching your children. Know that you are teaching with every word and deed you do. Maybe a good mantra for you to think about as you work toward teaching respect by being respectful is STOP, THINK and count to 10 before you speak.
Timing yourself out helps you from reacting in anger and more violently than you really want to react. If you need to count to 1 million do it. If you need to leave the room to count, do it. No matter how long it takes for you to respond to a family member respectfully, instead of out of habit and anger, is perfect. The important thing is that when you do talk with the family member that it be with the intent to be respectful. You can set limits and boundaries in respectful ways and you can provide consequences for infringement of boundaries respectfully.
Children need to know and respect the limits you set. Not setting limits is as unhealthy and inappropriate as too many limits that are enforced by violence. The role of parenting is a balancing act and because of the precarious position you have, as your child’s first teacher, you need to always be aware of what your are doing and not allow yourself to fall of the balance beam and create more chaos for yourself and society.