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Disrespect for Children

admin June 11, 2011

The longer I’ve had kids (which, granted, at just under 3.5 years isn’t that long), and the longer I’ve kind of “studied” different attitudes towards child-rearing, the more I think society in general really has a healthy disrespect for children.

There are the people who don’t have (and maybe don’t want) children who speak of them as stinky, messy, screaming parasites.  There are people who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to keep children “seen and not heard.”  Children who behave ‘inappropriately’ (usually by adult, not developmental standards) are often frowned at.  Think about a child yelling in a library — that child will be shushed and possibly glared at by any number of people!

It’s sad.  Why do we have such disrespect for children?  And how can we put childhood into its proper perspective?

Children Are People Too

I don’t have the answers here, since I haven’t been a parent very long.  This is just a topic that keeps coming back to me.

It occurs to me that we don’t treat children like peopleWe treat them more like pets.  They need to be well-trained and controlled so that they don’t misbehave in public and offend society.  We shouldn’t let people see them throw fits…run around near breakables…or say things that aren’t very nice…right?

However, children are people too!  They deserve respect.  Yes, they are smaller.  Yes, they are immature.  That’s why they’re children.  But do we have to talk to them like little idiots?  Do we have to ignore them?  Do we have to exclude and shame them?

I didn’t think any of this was very fair when I was a child.  I still don’t.  I don’t like “rules for the sake of rules” just because a person is younger.  I didn’t, as a very basic example, find a strict bedtime to be fair when I was a child…perhaps earlier or later was needed depending on the day’s activities and level of tiredness.  Granted a general routine and similar time structure is good for small children (and my kids now go to bed “around” the same time every night), but what about flexibility based on needs?

We have no patience with children’s idiosyncracies.  We see them as misbehavior, to be trained out of them.  We don’t put up with behavior that, in another adult, we may excuse.  For example, if the child is having a bad day and says “You’re a mean mommy and I don’t have to listen to you!” — Most would at least reprimand, some would punish.  But is it really that different from an adult saying, “Just shut up, I don’t want to hear it today.”  Neither are nice behavior and an apology is certainly warranted, but why can’t we talk to the child as we would the adult?  “I know you’re upset today, but that was uncalled for.  I think you owe me an apology.”  Some handle it this way…some don’t.

Developmental Stages

A lot of what I see is focused on controlling children.  There is little allowance for the natural developmental stages that children go through.

It’s perfectly appropriate for a two-year-old to throw himself on the floor and scream when you tell him no.  Not especially fun (for the kid, the parent, OR the onlookers), but it’s normal.  Some take this in stride — especially current parents, or those with grown children — and some don’t.  Really, all you need to do is say “We don’t throw fits when we don’t get what we want,” pick up the child, and carry on.  They soon learn not to do this anymore, as they get older and develop some self-control.  My 3-year-old does not ever throw fits to get her way (unless she’s really, really tired, sick, etc.).  When I say no, her typical response is, “Next time,” as we walk away.

Older kids like to talk too loudly or too often…dance around without paying attention to who’s around them…and so on.  Frankly, some adults do these things too!  Think about people on hidden cell phones, or who stand in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store, contemplating a product without being aware that no one can get through!  It just takes time and conscientious parenting to get them past this, by helping them become aware of their behavior and others around them.

Society in general doesn’t have patience for this.  They don’t want to see kids screaming, or dancing in their way, or asking loud (potentially rude) questions.  How many times has my 3-year-old said: “Why is he buying/doing that?”  And we talk about how other people make different choices, so normally she can answer her own question now.

Children Are Not an Annoyance

Okay, if you’re a parent, you know that children are sometimes annoying.  Isn’t everyone?  But children, in general, are not an annoyance.

Strollers are often seen as big, unwieldy, and “not belonging” in certain areas.  Don’t they?  They can be a handy way to transport toddlers and all their stuff, holding up the ‘traffic’ as little as possible. Try walking behind a mother who’s holding her not-quite-two-year-old by the hand and see if that’s any faster! (No.)  Of course, that has to happen too…gently training a child to walk while holding an adult’s hand.  And yes, that means you’ll move slowly sometimes, and get in peoples’ way.  But there should be some understanding of this process.

Some people don’t like children asking questions.  Most children are extremely inquisitive and love to talk about anything they can see.  They will tell you everything they know, and ask you about anything they don’t.  This makes people uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say…and some of them can’t understand why a child would have the “audacity” to say it or ask it in the first place!  Some adults will try to put off a child and refuse to answer because “You’re just a child, what do you know?”  That’s so disrespectful.  No adult would appreciate being spoken to that way!  Why is it acceptable to ignore a child’s questions, or worse, belittle them?  I personally try to answer every question I get asked, even if the answer is “I don’t know.”

We Need Respect

As a society, we need to have more respect for children.  We need to understand and expect the normal developmental stages they go through.  We need to treat them kindly and gently, just as we would (should) other adults.  Not that we shouldn’t discipline them or expect developmentally appropriate behavior; we should!  But this can be done with love and respect, not heavy-handedness and discouragment.

What do you think?  Does society have disrespect for children?

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18 Comments

  1. This is why I love Germany. I think that your German guest blogger put it best in one of her posts when she said that children aren't apologized for here. Banks have child areas in them so the kids can play with toys instead of being expected to sit down on a chair and do nothing. Parents travel everywhere with their small kids – it's not uncommon at all for parents with babies go on vacation, for parents with toddlers take them places. They aren't left at home with a babysitter all day. I see my neighbors (I think their daughter is around 9 or so months…she's crawling but not walking, laughing/baby talking but not really talking yet) take her for MULTIPLE walks in the stroller every day. Regardless of weather. If it's cold, they bundle babies here up really well but they still take them out, help them see society and how things work. And I've never seen a German kid throwing a fit because their parents pay attention to them. It's not about your kid being annoying, it's about you having wanted that child. So when I go to the restaurant in my town (owned by the gentleman and waitressed by his wife), chances are that their son, who is in kindergarten, will come at some point and sit down next to us and talk. He'll ask us to build coaster houses (and will bring us extra ones to make them taller), will ask us to count the change he has, and generally will interact with adults. Heck, he'll even sit down at the bar and have a conversation with whomever is having a beer at that time! And you know what? I think that's the best thing for the kid. He's well-socialized, understands the rules, but that isn't to say that he and his stuffed tiger won't rocket up from his seat in the middle of your conversation and go run and "fly" in the other room. He's still a kid.

    That's what we need in the states, in my opinion.

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  2. So, I don't have kids, but I LOVE this post. I have spent much of my life loving children, babysitting them, nannying for them and hoping and praying to someday have them.

    I despise when people treat children so disrespectfully. People expect first time obedience and perfect behavior…what adult always responds right away and has perfect behavior? It is such a crock! It also drives me nuts when people complain and complain about their children on facebook, blogs, in person, etc. There's nothing wrong with stating exhaustion, (because as a parent a person will obviously get exhausted!), but it is the complaining about children that gets to me from my friends. As a person who desperately wants children but isn't in a place to have them right now…it is really offensive to me. And disrespectful to the child – I would NEVER say that kind of stuff about my husband unless it was to an extremely close confidant on a VERY bad day.

    I also have a friend who often says that people get more fired up about animal rights (particularly pet abuse issues) than they do about child abuse issues. I think that is true and it is SCARY. Children are the future of this world. We should treat them with the dignity that every living thing deserves. I loved this post.

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  3. Great post. I find my children often do things that society doesn't like or behave immaturely when I am acting lazy or not paying attention to their need for food, sleep, less stimulation, more stimulation or any other number of childhood needs. I am working with my kids on communicating. Sometimes they communicate things I would prefer they didn't, but I would rather they are telling me things without going to extreme measures (like fit throwing and disrespect) than not telling me. The more I focus on treating them like they are real people with feelings and needs, the more happily we all get along. ~Jessica

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  4. This is one thing that most particularly stood out to me when i have read up on homeschooling and especially the' charlotte mason method' which i so enjoy:) The VERY first 'tenet' of 20 or so things Charlotte Mason most especially considered important in the education of children was "Children are born PERSONS." yes, and they demand the respect we would show any other 'person' as well, most especially in regard to their individuality as a person.

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  5. I love this post – thanks for sharing!

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  6. Disrespect for kids is rampant. I find myself getting annoyed at other adults at the playground, because my son will go up and talk to them (he is 3) and they will just look at each other with an expression like, "Why is this kid talking to me?". Of course, I say that, but I know that there are many moments where I ignore him to, but am too wrapped up in whatever important thing I am doing to notice.

    Our culture rewards moms for being achievers, working outside the home, keeping a tidy home, cooking fabulous meals and throwing fantastic parties and playdates. It even rewards them for raising kids who are acheivers (thus the success of the Baby Einstein and 'My baby can read' products). But it rarely, if ever, rewards moms for tuning into their kids. I would even say it punishes them for it. Responding to a child is seen as indulgent, and rude to the adult that you are with. Until these things change, I don't think disrespect for children is going anywhere.

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  7. Your post came at the most perfect time. I took my 2 children – 24 month old boy and 8 month old girl – to my grandma's today for a visit and she was constantly telling him "no", "don't do that", "come here" when he was exploring (not hurting anything, but looking around and touching). She was saying things to me like "doesn't he listen to you when you say no", and "I don't remember having to chase my kids around like you have to chase him around".
    I also think that there's a huge difference between the advice our grandmothers were given and the advice we're given as parents. At least in my family, so I can't speak for society in general. My grandmother always tells me to leave my kids alone when they're upset, to ignore them because they know how to get what they want (as if that's a bad thing…that they get what they want).
    I meet my kids needs – not give them everything they want. Sometimes they can't have something, but I always redirect them into something they can have or do.
    I'm not perfect, but I'm hoping that treating my kids as little people with their own personalities, enjoying them through all their stages, learning about their likes and dislikes, and not expecting that they'll act like little adults will help our relationship with each other as they grow older.

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  8. This is very true. My daughter is just getting into toddlerhood so I can really relate. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. What a great topic to read about before I go to bed. I have to admit that I am one of those people who occasionally get frustrated that my son is not behaving (to my standards) when in reality he is just being a kid.
    We need to remind ourselves that they are people with feelings and deserve respect. It makes me sad when I realize I have scolded him when he did not realize he had done anything wrong.
    I'm trying to be the best mom I can be. Reminder's like this post are very much appreciated!

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  10. I COMPLETELY AGREE! This is my biggest issue with society in general.

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  11. Excellent post.

    I distinctly remember being treated with very little respect as a child – in all the ways you've mentioned – though my parents certainly did and do love me. It actually turned me from an insanely confident and adventurous kid into being shy and fearful, with low self confidence and little respect for myself for many years.

    Being ridiculed, controlled, etc. (though none was with intent for harm) gradually chipped away at who I was. It took me years to regain the the confidence I had naturally possessed and I still have many days of self doubt. My mom can throw me back into that in an instant without even realizing what she's doing!

    I do find grace in that I understand they didn't know any better – I used to be 'bothered' by children on occasion and was quite judgmental of parents who weren't 'controlling' them – I didn't gain this greater understanding until I had kids. It's hard to change your beliefs when they've rarely been challenged.

    I do hope more people will get this message (and get this message out there) and maybe think of their own childhood's if they can't put it in the context of actually having children. Thank you for sharing…

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  12. O.k., I may get "yelled" at for this, but I have a somewhat different perspective. I totally agree that children are NOT annoyances to deal with. They are precious blessings! But they are in need of training. They don't know right from wrong at birth. They don't know that yelling, throwing tantrums, calling names, etc are wrong. Of course, they first need to be taught, but if they continue the behavior, there is nothing wrong with bringing correction of some sort. It may be unpopular to recognize that children are born fallen (that is with a sin nature), but it is no less true. Saying that does not make them any less of a gift.

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  13. Heather,

    I don't disagree that children need correction and discipline. But it's the attitude in which you go about it. "I love you and I need to teach you why this is not okay" is one thing, "You're just a stupid little kid" is another. I think a lot of people just think kids are kind of stupid and don't discipline them with any respect. Even if you spank your children sometimes (which I do), you can still say, "I love you too much to let you act that way," explain the misbehavior and proper behavior, and always let them know that your relationship with them is the most important things. Totally different than disciplining in anger because you are sick and tired of childish behavior. The first takes the role of the parent seriously but treats the child with appropriate respect; the second shows no respect whatsoever. Does that make sense?

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  14. Thanks for clarifying. I completely agree with your reply.

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  15. Excellent reply, ModernMama. That is a biblical idea as well. "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child." Childish behaviour is simply that. Childish. Patience and loving guidance are far, far better, than low tolerance and knee jerk punishments. I like one of the mottos of peaceful parenting: You are raising a human being, not managing an inconvenience.

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  16. Great post!
    I included this post in "Recent Posts I'm Loving" on my blog

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  17. I wish I’d begun parenting in light of this article ! The problem for new first time parents is firstly their own background and upbringing. Second, the first time parent has an exercise to be a good parent so they go to the self-styled “experts” who tell them they “ought” to this and they “must” that and then you have the culture society expectations placed on that then your conscience warring against those! If ones own parents had distant dealings with you and taught you nothing about child rearing it can be a pretty hard task! My neighbour has 6 children aged 8 – 22 and she says there’s always this stiff old baggy voice inside her head saying ” your child should NOT be saying/doing/thinking this you MUST exercise your control and discipline this instant! ” but she says with experience patient gentle reminders, constant love and respect for them have been more affective than anything!

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  18. Sadly I think this is the nature of the beast. Society today, so dismantled from community and even family, breeds intolerance. Humans are supposed to live in tight knit, tribal communities where everyone knows one another and supports their elders and their children. In a tribal environment, children all play together, and learn not only from many parents but also many grandparents what is right and wrong. I am a stay at home mum to one, which means a lot of one on one time with my son. We don’t have family nearby and I worry about how that affects his attitudes and development, because it feels so unnatural for us to be so isolated for a lot of the time.

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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