Mutual Respect

What is respect?

Being respected means being valued as a worthwhile human being. It is being treated with dignity regardless of human differences such as age, gender, race and even knowledge and skill.

There are two parts to mutual respect:

  1. Mutuality is a two-way street (I respect you and you respect me.). For that to happened we must each also respect ourselves.
  2. Equality is the basis for mutual respect. Equality here does not mean sameness but in the fact that we are human beings, belonging to the human family. We all need to be treated with dignity and respect. It means we have value or personal worth simply because we are human beings.

How mutual respect works in an adult/child relationship:

Many of us were raised with the idea that children must respect adults, while children were often treated with disrespect. We were taught to obey and this was enforced with reward and punishment. Children were controlled by the adults in their lives. Under this system, children learned to have others think for them, to avoid mistakes and to be submissive to an external authority.

Mutual respect between adults and children requires us to shift out beliefs and techniques of parenting. While the roles of parent and child are different, the individuals involved are of equal value as human beings. When parents are providing for, nurturing and teaching children in a non-punitive way, children come to believe that they are worthwhile, that they have abilities and that others believe in them and trust them. Parents can most effectively help children to learn to become independent, contributing individuals with strong internal motivation by doing the following:

  • Encouraging and valuing children’s contributions, ideas and efforts.
    • Saying “Thank you for helping/sharing. I appreciate it.”
  • Accepting and acknowledging children’s feelings as valid, legitimate and real.
    • Saying “You’re really sad that you can’t play longer at your friend’s house.”
  • Accepting mistakes as opportunities to learn.
    • Saying “What did you learn from this?” – Also see last point.
  • Finding opportunities for children to makes choices and decisions.
    • Give opportunities to make age appropriate choices early.
  • Giving assistance in, and opportunity for, critical thinking and problem solving.
    • Working trough problems with your child initially to teach the skills and then letting your child do it on his/her own once s/he has the skills
  • Sharing affection and fun with children.
    • Lots of hugs and playing with your children.
  • Remember that example is the most powerful teacher.
    • No comment needed here!
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Mutual respect begins early!

Adapted from an article by E. Quiring and B. Johnson.

Understanding Adolescents

Adolescence is a time of huge change. Teens are needing to individuate, to progress, to maintain connection, to find balance, to learn to cope with tumult, sadness, rejection and disappointments (Grogan, 2015). They are also trying to make sometimes daunting discussions about their future: their academic and career choices. They are doing all this while their brains are in a chaotic period of development (NIHM, 2011). Their is heightened fear and anxiety in teens and this is due to the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain) developing at a much faster rate that the prefrontal cortex (the reason and logic part of the brain) (Freidman, 2014).  In order to be able to make a good, sound decisions, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex need to be working together, something that does not always happen in adolescence. Yet, you say, “But my son/daughter is capable of making good decisions.” Yes, they are capable and do make good decisions at times, but this is not consistent. Somedays the amygdala and the cortex are in sync and many days they are not. This inconsistence is due to the fact that the bran is still developing and will continue to do so until mid to late twenties – 25 for women, 28 for men.

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Therefore, when parents see this inconsistent and sometimes erratic behaviour, they become worried and begin to think the worst. Their impulse is to reign the teen in and become more intrusive. This is a destructive cycle and will only push the teen further away. What is a parent to do?

This is not an easy time for parents and this is a real juggling act; they can’t withdraw nor can they become intrusive. To make matters, ever more confusing for parents, is that somedays these teens are independent and autonomous, not needing much from their parents and other days they are acting like young children again and needing them again. So parents never know which role they are to play. The best way to imagine this period with your teens is think of your teen being on an elastic band, somedays that elastic is pulled very tightly, almost to the point of breaking and other days it is slack. This is the exact same process that 2 year-old sgoes through. They are individuating, learning who they are separate from their parents, testing their world and then returning to the safe haven of the parents for reassurance that the parent is still there. Parents need to be able to continue being that safe haven.

As humans, one of our basic needs to to connect and this never changes. We need to continue to work on our relationship with our teens, a relationship that we started building right from birth. This is a relationship built on mutual respect, understanding, trust, open communication and empathy. Try to remember, no matter how hard your teen pushes away, s/he still needs to know that you will always be there.