Parenting Really Is Tougher These Days

Over the last couple of decades, I have heard more and more parents express frustration that their children treat them with disrespect. “I would never have spoken to my parents the way my children speak to me,” they complain. Frustrated parents have gone to their own parents and asked what they did to command basic respect. These grandparents consider for a moment and then usually respond, “We don’t know.” Even more frustrating. The fact is, when the grandparents—or perhaps great-grandparents—were parenting, our post-World War II middle-class American society was more terrestrial. Of course, things weren’t anywhere close to perfect, but that majority segment of society promoted terrestrial values of self-control and deferred gratification. People accepted and sought the benefits of hard work, saving money, being faithful in marriage, and so on. Because these beliefs were widely accepted, they were reflected in literature, media, music, day-to-day experience, and almost in the very air we breathed. We did chores before watching TV. Our mothers used lay-away, not credit, to buy things. We watched shows like Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriett, My Three Sons, and The Andy Griffeth Show.1 Women were protected, children respected adults, hard work and honesty were valued and expected.

Disrespect from a child to an adult was not much modeled or tolerated. Naturally, there were some kids who showed disrespect, but when that happened, you could literally hear the gasps. The shock and disapproval of practically everybody acted as a powerful incentive to improve behavior. Not so today. As the values in society have changed and terrestrial patterns of belief and behavior are replaced by telestial beliefs and behaviors, “normal” is now very different. Even mild family fare on television regularly portrays parents and adults as rather stupid. Frequently, it’s the kids who come to the rescue, so the shows seem to justify all jokes at the parents’ expense. A laugh track lets us know how acceptable, and even clever, it is to lace every conversation with zingers and put-downs. And it won’t stop here. Tomorrow’s children will face the next level of deteriorating respect and decency.

Parents in a telestial world have to parent more pro-actively than parents in a terrestrial world. In decades past, parents may not have needed to think very much about teaching their children to respect adults; society did much of that for them. But society won’t teach today’s children to be respectful; their parents will need to do it. Society won’t teach today’s children the difference between true, modest beauty as defined by God and trendy, immodest, but increasingly popular behavior and attire; their parents will need to do it. Society won’t teach our young men to respect and protect women; their parents will need to do it. Society won’t teach today’s children the importance of sexual abstinence before marriage and complete fidelity in marriage; their parents will need to do it. Today’s and tomorrow’s parents need to be more educated and skilled at parenting. Repeating the parenting practices of even excellent parents will often be inadequate. The world is deteriorating too fast and too dramatically.

(You may be interested in reading more about parenting in a more telestial world. This subject is discussed at length in my new book, Choosing Glory, available on this website.)

1 Younger readers may not be familiar with these television shows unless they watched them on Nick at Nite, as my children did. These shows generally depicted families where parents were good people, not perfect but doing their best to rear children with good values and often showing consistent wisdom and maturity in their behavior and in the examples they set. Children were also not perfect but were typically respectful and responsive to parental teachings and influence.

  1. Kerry Thompson says:

    What about the idea that parents today need to be respectable? I’m thinking of two kinds of respectability.

    One is that the parent practices what they preach, and the children are around the parent enough to recognize it.

    The other is the “fear” kind of respect. I can’t really speculate on where that comes from. When I was working with Boy Scouts, I noticed a significant difference in how the boys responded to another adult leader in comparison to how they responded to me – somehow he struck great fear into their souls without ever lifting a finger, whereas I was nothing more than a comedian, judging by their response to me.

  2. Laura says:

    A big part of my trouble is my perceived need to compensate for the world. I see disrespect everywhere and feel that I can tip the scales in the appropriate direction; if I’m hard-line enough people will follow my example, maybe? I know that idea is ridiculous (who’s looking that closely at me, anyway?), but my trouble is finding a balance. If I inch closer to the permissive side of things, I might just topple over.

  3. Stan says:

    I recall reading this in “Choosing Glory,” and thinking, “It’s nice to know that I’m not just imagining that.”

    Ever since this specific section, I’ve become much more aware of how parent (and authority figures in general) are often portrayed as unworthy of respect, especially with the recent upswing in young adult literature.

    I agree with the sentiment that adults need to act respectable to begin with, but even when they do, I think our culture really is moving in a direction that encourages kids to be less respectful of authority, even when that respect really has been earned.

    It’s the “what to do about it” that’s the tricky part. To be honest, I really don’t have any answers beyond just “do your best to help them gain a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” That’s easier said than done, though. Still… one needs to try.

  4. Lili says:

    I appreciate the comments.

    Let me agree with the essential need for parents/adults to treat children–and all others–with respect. But I also agree that this is not enough to guarantee a reciprocal respect from kids. I think, as unpopular as it sounds these days, that there is a necessary element of fear in respect. Some personalities seem to naturally command respect. Others may seem too easy to treat disrespectfully, perhaps partly because they are milder personalities and there ends up being no cost or consequence for disrespect.

    So I think in today’s world, adults–particularly those with milder personalities–have to make a decision that they will not tolerate disrespect and have a plan for enforcing that boundary (e.g. significant loss of privileges or other consequences).

    Even when my own children were very small, I was careful to create and maintain that boundary. If I felt a child was treating me disrespectfully, I would–for instance–say, in a stern tone, “You don’t talk to your mother like that.” If there was not a quick apology and an appropriately respectful follow-up, there lives did not proceed as they had planned :). We did not advance until a course correction was made.

    This is always easier with young children but it’s possible at any point, though it usually takes longer and requires more energy after poor habits have been established.

    Parents have more power than they often realize. Remember, your child is almost completely dependent on you. That gives you many appropriate (never abusive) levers.

©2020 Lili Anderson, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.