Thursday, January 10, 2013

Respect: It’s not just for adults anymore

by Amy | Edited version. Original posted on Unschooling NYC on January 7, 2013

Is it respectful to post an iPhone contract of rules regarding the use of a gift given to a child by his parent? Is it respectful to post a photo of a child’s room taped off with duct tape and marked as hazardous & then say you had to do it to get the kid to clean the room?

Embedded image permalink

Such were the issues at the heart of a recent Twitter/Facebook firestorm.

Which made me think about Tom Cruise’s interview on the David Letterman sometime last month. Tom’s son is 17 and Dave’s son is 9, and they were basically talking about the various stages of childhood. Dave asked Tom if he’d had “the talk” with his son, and immediately answered his own question by saying “Of course you have, he’s 17 for god’s sake!” (Which got a laugh) Then he asked how that conversation went, and Tom paused. He said, “You know, he doesn’t really want me to talk about that.” He said his kids (he has three) don’t always want him to discuss such things in public because, well, it’s PUBLIC and then their friends or other people can come up to them and say, “So, I hear you and your Dad had ‘the talk’, and tell us about it.” So he declined to answer out of respect for his kids; for his son, in this case.

I tell you this story because the topic of respect for kids was what this week’s maelstrom was all about. Specifically, private issues having to do with kids being presented by parents for public consumption (and perhaps some fishing for ‘good parenting’ praise from peers on social media).

On the one hand, the Facebook thread in which I took part was great; disagreements were thoughtful, respectful and direct. Which is almost always the case among that group of homeschooling parents. The Twitter feed, less so. One parent (she of the duct tape) took immediate offense when challenged about her choice – or perhaps her judgment in broadcasting her choice – and called in her ‘tweeps’ & FB followers, whose answer to the criticism was condescension, name calling, insults, and threats. Dissenters were berated in vulgar terms for questioning her. And for questioning her in public! Parents should never disrespect other parents; mothers should never question other mothers, and so on.

But what about respect for the kids?

I don’t believe any kid would love for his/her parent to discuss a private matter on a public forum, even if that matter were as simple as cleaning a room. Especially when it’s presented as a joke. But what can the kid say? And hey, maybe it was all in good fun, but the utter inability of a parent to even consider that what they did might have contained an element of disrespect? And to respond with vitriol and hate? My first thought is, “Well THAT must have hit pretty close to home.”

When we started unschooling there were times I’d read something by Wendy Priesnitz or Sandra Dodd and think, “Jesus, that thing that is adultist and disrespectful to my kid? I’VE been doing that!” Tough to admit, but necessary if one is to encourage and support a life of curiosity and learning for your child. I truly believe life learning / unschooling cannot fully succeed otherwise.

Laurie A. Couture, in her book “Instead of Medicating and Punishing”, addresses the issue of how we view children. She says:
“Historically, children have been and are still, the most oppressed, exploited and victimized group of human beings on the planet. Children remain the most voiceless and the most discriminated against group of people in our culture. While every adult group in the United States has won basic human rights, protections and freedoms, children remain the only group of human beings without the same rights to equality, respect, protection from bodily harm and freedom of speech. 
If you have difficulty believing this, ask yourself these questions: 
1. Why are children the only people in the United States and England that it is legal to hit? 
2. When your children make a mistake, do you respond to them the way you would respond to an adult?  
3. Do you speak to your children with the same respect that you would speak to an adult friend?”
The answer to the last two, quite obviously, is “no” for most people.

This is a problem for those of us who wish to change the status quo regarding education and parenting. It is disheartening to try and engage someone in a constructive debate, only to have them retreat behind a wall of profanity and vitriol. Equally disheartening is that disrespect for kids is so ingrained in our society that it goes largely unnoticed. Children themselves often have a hard time putting into words what is wrong. They think, “Well that’s just the way grown ups are.” And how sad is that, because barring some type of interim revelation, it means they will repeat the disrespect with their own children (and all children) once they are grown.

Respecting kids in equal measure as you do fellow adults does not make you a weak parent or person. Just the opposite, in fact. It is far too easy to retreat behind the excuse of “I’m the parent and what I say goes” because that’s what our society supports. But we can be better.

We can grant kids the respect they deserve.
We’ll get it back in spades.


  1. You know I agree the good majority of the time with you and Amy, but for this stance and coming from this angle, I'm going to have to call foul a bit. I've never liked when people take extreme stances that aren't even really completely true just to make a point. For instance, you called foul on saying sexting is as extreme an issue as the original parent claimed, and now you're doing similar things.

    Case in point, the quote you use from Laurie Couture saying, "Children remain the most voiceless and the most discriminated against group of people in our culture," I feel isn't true at all. I would argue the most voiceless and discriminated against group of people are the mentally disabled. Often, they have no voice, even as adults. Children have been KILLED in SCHOOLS by TEACHERS using inhumane holds to control disabled children. And how often do you see the mentally disabled person at your local Walmart, your dentist office, or the mall? It's so rare that when I saw a young man like my son at Walmart, I ran up to him and his parent and THANKED them for bringing him! Most are hidden away in back school rooms or day centers as adults.

    Historically, we all lament the persecution and abuse of the Jews during the Holocaust, but who realizes that it was the mentally and physically disabled killed first? And even from Christians, we often talk about when Jesus asked the children to be brought to Him and blessed, but He FIRST asked for the sick and afflicted.

    Children have their plight and I'm an advocate, but they DO have voices with courage.

    Another case in point, it IS illegal to hit a child. I understand you want to place spanking under hitting, and I get it. But a woman can slap a man and does. And barroom brawls still occur and unless someone prosecutes, it exists. Not wanting a spanking debate or anything, but if a mark is left on a child, and it's known, it's automatic lawful intervention, including having a child removed from a home. Apparently that's not true for an abused woman. She has to prosecute, which I find astounding.

    That's just a couple points. There are a few more, but I think this is enough ;-) Again, I'm totally an advocate for children and respectful parenting, but I think we can make our point through positive examples rather than sensationalize generalized ideas.

  2. Cindy,

    Every comment and quote in my book is backed by research. Those disabled people killed by teachers that you mentioned are CHILDREN. They are powerless because they are in school, under the control of teachers. You are incorrect about "mentally disabled" people in general having no rights. I work in the mental health field and have for many years, and adults with disabilities do have many legal protections and rights. At this time in history, it is children who do not have the same rights as adult citizens.

    It is legal in all 50 states to assault a child in the name of "discipline" (although abused men are not given equal protection by human service agencies, all adult citizens have the legal right to be free of assault and can press charges), it is legal in all 50 states to violate and cut off part of a boy's penis in the name of "circumcision" and it is legal in all 50 states to hold children hostage against their wills for six or more hours daily in the name of "education". Children aren't even allowed to meet basic bodily needs in school outside adult designation.

    You are wrong about children being removed from abusive homes for a "spanking" bruise. In most cases, children who have been chronically abused and neglected for years are left with abusive families. Most state agencies will immediately "screen out" physical abuse calls, especially if they can be justified by the law as "discipline". I have been working in the system since 1999 and it takes quite an extreme situation these days to have a child removed. Even sexual abuse of a boy by a woman isn't extreme enough. I have even been to court on behalf of children with documented bruises and eye witnesses to chronic abuse and there was no legal intervention. It is all about preserving the parent's "rights", not the children's rights to live free of violence.

    Your comment was not well researched, but anecdotal.

    Laurie A. Couture

  3. I appreciate your perspective, Laurie. I'm not saying I don't get your overall thinking. I'm just not on board with using extreme language and viewpoints to help good parents do better. It creates a fight/flight response much of the time.

    I'm standing behind my stance that mentally disabled people have the least rights. Yes, they have rights by law, as do children, but often, they can't know their own rights because of their intellectual disability enough to speak up for themselves. They are often completely reliant upon the adults in their lives to advocate for them. And, unfortunately, there's a high incidence of abuse of the mentally disabled as well as an even higher incidence of divorce of those taking care of mentally disabled children. Children CAN speak up for themselves and do. I totally admit it's harder for them because of their status in our society, but it's possible. It's not usually possible for those with intellectual disabilities to do so. I've not only also worked with agencies for years, but have children with these disabilities, so know first hand.

    And, of course, it's unfortunate that the laws aren't upheld for abused children throughout the system. Like school districts, every department can be either good or bad. In our county, they look into most cases called in, and from experience of adopting two boys from the foster care system, I know they've pulled children out for less extreme circumstances. Sometimes it's scary on both ends, if one thinks about it.

    I'm really not trying to be arbitrarily negative. I just don't know if the extreme stance is highly effective. I'm totally on board with respectful parenting. In fact, I just got to practice it tonight. My most disabled son just moved in with his older brother the past week two doors down. (Yes, I raised awesome kids!) He's really happy with it. My older son wanted him to feel secure and worked with my forever son's schedule for over a week exclusively. My older son wanted to be able to go out alone finally and we asked my forever son to come be at our house tonight. He wasn't having anything to do with it. He's partially verbal and was able to share enough about what he wanted. When I would share back our thoughts, he would keep coming up with other ideas. I was SO impressed with his VERBAL collaboration ability. He's come a LONG way. So, I told him I would work things out, giving him some ideas who could stay with him. I called the various people and worked it out and he's contentedly at his home willing to have others come to supervise him. It was pretty cool. Most people would just force him, but that's not how we operate. Even though it was harder, we created a win-win for everyone... because we love and respect him :-)

  4. I am just so dismayed by parents who take such punitive and disrespectful approaches like this mother who taped up her daughter's room, wrote a shaming and banishing message, and then, as if that wasn't hurtful enough, she posted it on social media!

    I can't imagine harming the relationship with my son by doing something like this. She claimed it was "a joke"? A joke is mutually funny. A joke shouldn't shame or overpower our child. For example, it might have been funny if the Mom put up a toxic waste sign on the door (withOUT the shaming message, withOUT the duct tape and withOUT the banishment of her daughter from her own room) as a joke, then they laugh, Mom hugs her daughter and kindly suggests they could clean the room TOGETHER (and NOT posting it on social media).

    What this Mom did was not a joke at all but humiliating and shaming. As a teen, I would have reacted to the mother's actions with anger, tearing off the tape and sign and dug my heels in deeper. Then I would have felt mortified and enraged if my personal business had been posted by one of my parents on social media.

    Why are parents so adverse to helping their teen children? If my son's room gets cluttered, I just simply help him pick it up. I know I have a knack for organization, so why not use it to help out someone I love? Often if my son's room is getting cluttered, he is overwhelmed by cleaning because he has several projects going on at once. I enjoy helping him. In return, he is more than happy to help me when I could use a hand at something. Parents directly invoke teen defiance and anger with their punitive actions. A little compassion, connection and helping out our teens goes a long way.

  5. Cindy,

    It is not "extreme" to state a fact. It is a fact that children are the citizens with the least legal rights. Disabled adults have far more rights than people under 18. What is "extreme" is the egregious lack of uproar by so-called child advocates, social workers, mental health counselors and attorneys who are aware of the oppression of children and who turn a blind eye or corroborate with it.


  6. When my son was born---when I pushed out all 9 pounds, 24 inches of him---I had an epiphany---he was, as we all are---our own sovereign nation...and I loved him/love him more than anyone on the planet ;)...The "golden rule" doesn't kick in when we're 18, or applies to us all...even tiny babies. Even agitated toddlers...My son respects me because I respect him. And I mess up a lot. He does the way humans always do...we have good days and bad days ;)...But he knows that he can wake me up at 3AM if he wants to talk (and he has)...he knows that I will never lay a hand on him in anger or frustration...he's 14--I don't recall ever *punishing* him...I remember once--he must have been ~ 10--he took $10 from my wallet...I had been muttering to myself that evening..."I KNOW I had money in my wallet..."..that night/early morning he woke me up---"Ma, I gotta talk to you. I took the money. HERE. I'm sorry"...I didn't "punish" him...he did a good enough job of that all by himself...