“Justin Bieber Eggs His Neighbor’s House.” “Kendall Jenner…Calls [Her Mother] a…Whore.” “Miley Cyrus Twerks on Married Man.” In American society today, the media is filled with incidents of youths disrespecting their elders. In fact, even the idea that children should respect their elders seems nonexistent (“Respect for Others”). I’m only thirty-two, but even I wonder what happened to respecting our elders.
When I was a child, I looked to my parents and grandparents for advice and to learn about the past. I viewed them as wise old owls who had a wealth of knowledge and experience that I could tap into. Disrespecting my parents was never an option, and if I didn’t show respect, they would ground me for weeks or, even worse, break out the back scratcher. What has changed from my generation to this? Has the internet ruined our need to look to elders as knowledge keepers? Has social media eliminated our need for social pleasantries? Has the frown on spanking created an uncrossable barrier for parents and discipline?
To better understand youth, I interviewed my twenty-year-old housemate, John, a young man plagued by the need to disregard others. John is the kind of person who, if you asked how his day went, walks past you without eye contact or acknowledgement of your existence. He acts as though he is royalty and can’t be bothered by the peasants around him, and he always has music blaring through headphones to drown us out. I doubt he would behave so arrogantly if he knew how much he resembles a chicken pecking the ground for food when he bobs his head to the beat. Like I said, he is the epitome of a disrespectful youth.
I asked John what he thought about respecting adults, and he said that as a child he ignored his parents. (Why am I not surprised?) All he cared about was wearing designer clothes and owning the latest technological gadget, and he didn’t care what he had to do to get it. Apparently, he wasn’t above slamming doors or screaming at them until they gave in. However, he did say that he looks back now and laughs at his behavior. “Now that I’m in college, I want this and that and I realize they have their own bills to pay. I got a job, but the paycheck is fucking small. Shit’s expensive. I guess I should’ve been grateful that they bought me stuff.” Just when I thought John had realized the error of his ways, he added, “What’d you ask me? Do I respect adults? Why should I? Old people are fucking annoying.” He further explained that he crosses the street if he sees them walking toward him. I tried to ask what he meant by that, but he just got up and walked away. Shocker.
Now that I had gotten the perspective of a bratty young adult, I decided to find out how the older generation felt and interviewed a sixty-five year old woman. She shook her head at the question and said, “They have a lot to learn. This generation is the most selfish I’ve seen. Their definition of authority is becoming very abstract, and when older people talk to them it goes in one ear and out the other.” I asked her why she thought respect with today’s youth had deteriorated, and she replied, “They’re always on their doodads. They never look up long enough to talk. All you see is the tops of their heads!”
Could that be it? The answer to the demise of respect is electronics?
This past summer I attended a wedding and the children of the family seated at the table next to me had four iPads. There they were in the middle of a fancy wedding reception in their cute little suits and gowns with their eyes glued to the screen. A few people braved the trek through a tangle of extension cords to say hello only to receive a slight wave for their trouble. How rude (Philpott)! The eyes of those children never even left the screen! I wanted to yank those iPads away and scold those kids for their rudeness, but then I realized it was their parents who allowed them to bring the devices in the first place.
Since the advent of television, the one-eyed babysitter, adults have used electronics to keep their children busy. Unfortunately, when those children grow older and parents want to spend time with them, the teens will be too caught up in Facebook and funny videos on YouTube to care. I could go on for pages about the dangers of the internet and even play devil’s advocate and tell you about some great educational apps out there, but the bottom line is that focusing on technology removes children from face to face interaction with humans. How will they learn social skills when their texting vernacular is riddled with abbreviations? Would you believe my friends said that teens in an elevator were actually speaking in text mode and responding to each other with “LOL” and “SMH” instead of complete sentence? How hard is it to say, “Laugh out loud,” or even better, how hard is it to actually show emotion and laugh?
A couple weeks ago, I was with my friend’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Ann, and her friend, Betty. I was shocked to see that Betty was on her phone most of the time, even during dinner. We asked her to put the phone away and talk to us, and she did, but talking with her was like pulling teeth. Her responses were barely composed of five words, and she never contributed to the conversation. Whereas Ann, whose mom is a parent educator, was able to carry on appropriate conversation about a variety of topics. So, is technology to blame or are parents who don’t teach their children the proper use of technology to blame? I don’t know. But I do know that Ann is the only teenager who lets me sit in the front seat of a car and greets me when I see her.
Why don’t parents take the time to teach their children? Don’t they realize the harm they are doing? The unnecessary burden they are putting on their children by not preparing them for social interaction? The disservice they are doing to their children by not teaching them to respect teachers and future bosses? All too often I have seen children throwing tantrums in stores and parents giving in because they’re embarrassed by the eyes on them. Should their perceived embarrassment really outweigh the long lasting benefits of putting their foot down? As a child, I remember asking my parents for a duck hunt game, and no matter how much I begged they didn’t budge. “You will not die if you don’t have the game,” they reasoned. I guess they were right since I’m still here.
Like Ann’s mom, I believe in teachable moments and use every opportunity presented to teach the students I work with about respect. The lessons are simple, for example, hold the door open for others, say thank you and you’re welcome when getting or giving something, and speak to others with respect. Working with deaf children is especially challenging because the majority of their parents don’t sign. It’s sad because a child’s first teacher should be his/her parents, but when that child is deaf and the parents don’t sign, that responsibility falls to the schools. I remember one student coming off the bus and greeting me with the middle finger and a smile. I was shocked, but I couldn’t get angry at her because I knew she didn’t know what it meant. Instead I pulled her aside and asked her about it. She said, “My brother does the same to my father.” She learned it from her brother, but where did he learn it? Could it be something he saw on television or in a movie?
The other day my best friend roped me into watching “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Why she likes this show is beyond me. Within ten minutes, the children of Kris Jenner, both over 18 and adults, were swearing at her and calling her by her first name. I was appalled! For hours afterwards I was thinking about the disrespect shown on that reality show and thought, Is this reality?
My twenty-five-year-old housemate, Dan, asked me why I was frowning, and I asked him, “If you called your mother by her first name would she get mad?”
His eyes grew wide, and he said, seriously, “She’d slap me.”
The solemnity in Dan’s eyes was familiar to me. That’s the level of respect I grew up with. The knowledge that if I did something disrespectful I would pay for it. I’m not encouraging corporal punishment, but I am saying that like Dan’s parents, mine ingrained in me the utter necessity of respecting our elders. What has happened to this value? I think parents stopped taking the time to teach their children it was important.
Parents need to step up and teach their children respect: Teach them how to properly interact with peers and adults. Stop using iPads as babysitters and talk to their children. Look for teachable moments to demonstrate respect. Don’t give in to tantrums and stand their ground in public. Make respecting elders a priority again and stop turning our innocent children into the Bieber’s of the world!
John and other first-name-only sources are pseudonyms.
“Justin Bieber EGGS His Neighbor’s House.” TMZ, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
“KUWTK: Kendall Jenner Calls Kris Jenner A ‘Desperate Fu**King Whore.’” YouTube, 23 June 2014. 10 Dec. 2014.
“Miley Cyrus Twerks on MARRIED MAN Robin Thicke 2013 Vmas Performance.” YouTube, 26 Aug. 2013. 10 Dec. 2014.
Philpott, Shannon. “Signs of a Lack of Respect Between People.” eHow. N.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
“Respect for Others Is Nearing Extinction.” Lifetickler. N.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.