Your teenage son started coming home late from school. When you asked why, he snapped, “It’s none of your business. I can take care of myself!” Is he becoming less respectful? He argued you did not respect his privacy, saying he deserved more independence and respect from you. But as his parent, you feel you have the right to know. This situation can lead to a clash of interest between you and your son. In this case, mutual respect is important. So, what is respect?

Respect simply means acknowledging one’s abilities and inner qualities. To respect someone is to have a high regard or admiration for one’s views and feelings. Your teen wants to be acknowledged as an equal individual, but he also needs to respect your authority as his parent. Both parties have to realise that respect is a two-way street and needs to be earned.

Earning respect

Mutual respect can be achieved when parents and teens make the effort to understand each other’s point of view. It should start with you as the parent, as a way of teaching about respect to your teen. The following are some ways to gain respect from your teen, while at the same time, treating him respectfully.

  • Empathy and compassion. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, while compassion is the desire to alleviate the other’s suffering. Both are important precursors to respect. Try to empathise and be compassionate to your teen by remembering your own experience as a teenager. Put yourself in his shoes to see his point of view. Make an effort to understand his situation, perspective and emotion.
  • Lend your ear. Listen to what he has to say until the end before making any decisions or conclusions. Let him justify his choice and action. Realise that ‘listening’ does not mean ‘agreeing’; it is a way to show your respect to him. You may or may not agree with his explanation, but always listen first.
  • Reasonable rules. Your teen is still bound to your authority and has to follow your rules as long as he is living under your roof. However, ensure that the rules are fair, logical, and suitable for him as a teenager. Negotiate with him and listen to his feedback. Do not treat him like a small child. Avoid making rules for your own convenience or to impose unnecessary control on him.
  • Never embarrass him. Do not belittle or humiliate him, either in private or public, despite how strongly you might feel about the mistake he had committed. Avoid name-calling even when you are fuming with anger. Be careful not to say or do things that you might think as acceptable, but can be viewed as embarrassing to your teen. Parents’ words can have a deep impact on their child’s psyche.
  • Give him your trust. Trust him when he has proven himself trustworthy. Give him some freedom and let him make his own decision, if he has shown that he is responsible. For example, when letting him go out with his friends to the mall, set a rule for him to return before dusk. If he did as instructed, you can trust him when he asks to go out again.
  • Walk the talk. Be consistent with your words, actions, rules, and decisions. Do not contradict what you have told him. Someone who is inconsistent or hypocritical will be regarded as less credible and thus, less respectable. A classic case is when a father scolds his teenage son for smoking, while he is a smoker himself.
  • Be honest. Admit your mistake and acknowledge when he is right. Being honest and open with him shows that you respect him as a person. This will also encourage him to be honest with you and nurture mutual respect.
  • Behaviour vs. character. Distinguish his character or identity from his behaviour. When reprimanding him, be sure to direct it to his bad behaviour or action instead of his character. Attacking his character can make him lose respect for you.

Building a healthy relationship

Parental communication methods should evolve as children grow. Teenagers do not want to be treated as a small child – they want to be independent and seen as a young adult. Nevertheless, parents are still mandated to be responsible for their teens. Both parents and teens have to understand their respective roles in order to develop mutual respect, as it is an important element of a healthy family relationship.

An educational collaboration with Malaysian Mental Health Association.

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