Everything I Thought I Knew about Teaching Kids Respect was Wrong. Here’s What I’ve Learnt During a Decade of Parenting

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Before I became a parent, I thought I knew everything about teaching kids respect. When my kids were really small, my views were still pretty much the same. I don’t know if it’s the era we’re living in, my decade of experience as a parent, or a combination of both that have changed my views. Whatever the reasons, I now see most of the traditional respect-teaching methods as pointless, at best, and outright damaging at worst. Let me bust some popular myths for you.

Myth 1: Above all else, we must teach our girls to respect themselves

While I agree that girls should grow up respecting themselves, I’m really uncomfortable with the onus falling squarely at the feet of our female children. Toxic patriarchal views like this cause us so many problems. They lead to conversations along the lines of: “well, she was dressed provocatively, so she probably deserved it.” Think about that for one minute.

At risk of having a very controversial opinion here, I think we’re better off teaching our boys to respect the girls around them. With such easy access to porn, a lot of boys are growing up with an exceptionally unhealthy view of what girls should and shouldn’t be. If boys see girls purely as sex objects, from young teens, the girls are going to be fighting a lost battle. But all this starts ridiculously early, and we as parents have the power to stop these behaviours in their tracks.

Myth 2: Boys will be boys

No. They. Will. Not! Boys will be whatever they see the men around them being. So let’s set them some great examples. If a boy witnesses love and affection coming from his male role models, he will learn those traits himself. Likewise, if he witnesses aggression and unkindness, this is what he will present to the world.

Fundamentally, boys and girls aren’t that dissimilar. Our hormones do vary, of course, but each child is totally different. I’ve heard so many times that “boys have much more energy than girls” but I call BS. Some girls have this energy too, some girls can’t sit still and are happiest outdoors. And some boys would choose staying home to going out every single time. It depends on the kid.

Myth 3: Boys need toughening up

The idea that boys need to be rough housed and toughened up, is toxic. Not allowing a boy to cry when he is sad, is nothing short of barbaric. Behaving like this with our boys often leads to them having mental health problems, which can take a lifetime to recover from. Suicide is one of the biggest killers of adult men in this country, and the numbers go up each year.

Violent video games only make all this worse. Check out this incredibly interesting recent study on one of the most side-dividing subjects in parenting.

Myth 4: Gender stereotyping is snowflake nonsense

It very much is not. The boy / girl divide starts from birth and is insidious. Once you have a boy or girl, you’re presented with pink or blue everything, and on it goes. Birthday parties are princess and pirate themed. Segregation continues throughout school, where most kids will refuse to play with children from the other gender. Then at secondary level, many school are single sex.

Perhaps if girls and boys were not separated at every turn, and society became more inclusive as a rule, we’d have less gender dysphoria?

Myth 5: Teaching kids respect must include harsh punishments

One of the most confusing aspects of raising children, is how to discipline them. Views on discipline and methods will vary from parent to parent, and what works for one child won’t necessarily work for another. In our autism household, clear consequences for unacceptable behaviour works much better than threats of and punishment. My kids know the things they will get into trouble for and they also know what the consequences will be.

When they are behaving unpleasantly, it’s worth taking a step back and assessing the whole picture. Sometimes we ourselves are as much at fault as they are for whatever the incident is. Nine times out of ten there will be other factors at play: how hungry/tired they are, how much screen time they’ve had, a horrible day at school, etc. I know how hard I find it to function when I’m knackered or haven’t been adequately nourished. When I’m pulled out of my small screen-vortex and someone wants me to do what they want, rather than what I want. Imagine how much harder it is for our children?

Myth 6: School should do more

Another one of my unpopular opinions: I don’t think it’s the job of school to discipline our kids. That responsibility falls to us parents. Teachers are already overstretched, looking after too many children and all their varying needs. Not to mention filling out pointless paperwork. Their job is to educate on academic subjects, not replace the role of main carer.

Myth 7: The world doesn’t revolve around our kids, and they’ll have to learn sooner or later

While they are young, yes, the world should absolutely revolve around them. Otherwise why bother having them in the first place? Society can be a vile place, and learning our way among the constant brainwashing and confusing media influences is bloody hard. Surely it’s best to let our kids be innocent for as long as possible? In the blink of an eye they’ll have left home and be working it all out for themselves.

Most kids get given phones and access to social media from eight, nine years old. Which is nothing short of catastrophic, from what I’ve seen. Children do not have the capacity to understand the complexities of the online world. Giving them access to it young doesn’t teach them anything, it just perpetuates immature behaviour. Internet bullying is rife. Teen suicides are on the rise. Stats on child mental health are through the roof. Most adults I know struggle with social media, and the way it can leave us feeling meh. How can we expect our kids to navigate this minefield if we aren’t able to?

Myth 8: Kids should simply do as they’re told

Monkey see, monkey do. It’s as simple as that. If we really want to teach our kids respect, we have to model that respect ourselves. None of us are perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but we absolutely have to be able to see where there are gaps to be plugged when it comes to our parenting.

I haven’t written this piece to shame anyone, I’ve done so to get you thinking. Rather than complaining about society, and blaming others, let’s truly be the change we want to see.

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