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Q&A for Teens: Teens & Respect
Q&A for Teens

Q&A for Teens: Teens & Respect

Practical advice for parents and teenagers to feel respected by each other.


Dear Lauren,

I'm a mother of two teens, ages 11 and 14, and lately I'm so desperate to join a weekly parenting group, because things constantly come up and I'm always double-guessing if I handled situations the best way possible. For example: I find my kids do almost nothing around the house for chores: do I ignore? Or implement something? I understand my 14-year-old is developing her own identity, but does that mean I should ignore the constant criticism and name-calling she offers freely to everyone in sight? And food! She drives me crazy to get her candy for studying, and complains that I don't have normal food because I won't buy fast food dinners every night. Help! Is this a phase she'll outgrow? Or do I need to address it?

Lauren Roth's Answer

I chose this question for this week’s column for all you teenagers out there to help you and your parents get along better. I’m going to try and write this answer in a way that will be helpful for all you teen readers, and for all you parents of teens reading this, too.

The main problem I see, in my practice and when I do parenting workshops, is parents and teenagers not feeling respected by each other. It is absolutely a Torah obligation for children to respect their parents. It is also an absolute Torah obligation for every single person to respect every single other person on this planet. As Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler says in Strive for Truth, “We are obligated to respect every person simply because he or she is a person.” That means that children of any age should feel respected by their parents, and parents should feel respected by their children.

Now, teens, before you get too excited, this does not mean that Jewish families have to be democracies. Parents are in charge, and they get to make the rules, in order to keep you safe and growing properly and learning what you’re supposed to learn in life. But what this does mean is that everyone in every family should feel respected by his or her family members. And every person in every family should try to ensure that his or her family members feel respected by them. (Please note: I am NOT talking about abusive situations. If, say, a parent is emotionally abusing a child, that child will never earn the respect of that parent, and it is useless to try. Abusive situations are wholly different and normal rules don’t apply. See my previous article on emotional abuse.)

In answer to all of your questions above, I say: talk to your teenagers. Have a discussion with them. Talk to them like you would talk to one of your friends with whom you were having a disagreement. Respectfully ask them their opinion, and their reasons behind their opinion. Respectfully tell them your opinion, and the reasons behind your opinion.

And teens, listen to your parents’ questions, and answer them politely and respectfully. Ask your parents what their opinions are. Listen respectfully to their answers.

If anyone devolves into screaming, yelling, put-downs, or even subtle meanness, the person on the receiving end of the distasteful behavior should gently say, “You know, it really hurts my feelings when you say that/when you talk to me like that. We love each other, I know. Let’s have a respectful conversation, where we both listen and we both feel heard.”

To address one of your questions directly, let’s say your daughter says “Ugh! Broccoli for dinner again?! Why can’t you buy burgers and fries sometimes like normal mothers?” That would be your cue to first validate and empathize, so that your daughter feels respected, then invite a conversation to work out a solution, then gently remind her that there might be a better way to say what she wants to say.

It would go something like this: “Oy! I know you don’t like broccoli! I feel so bad that you don’t like dinner. Let’s discuss the things you do like so that I can make sure to have healthful options you enjoy each night. By the way, when you speak to me, you must do so respectfully. You are not permitted to insult your parent. I would have listened to you just as well – maybe even more! – if you had said, ‘Mom, I really don’t like broccoli. Can we discuss what I like and come to some kind of compromise on the dinner choices?’”

In terms of chores, every teen knows, deep down, that having some responsibility for taking care of the house and/or family is good for them. Sure, none of us wants to do chores, but everyone would do chores willingly IF they felt respected. (Right, teens?!) So the discussion about chores with your teen could go something like this: “Peter, here is a list of the jobs that need to be done each day. I’ve already marked the ones I’m going to do. Would you like to mark the ones you’d be willing to do? Thank you so much for helping – I’m so proud of how we all work together to keep this household running!” Proactive, sincere, honest appreciation goes a long way; it demonstrates your respect for the other person, and they are much more likely to willingly help you. Of course, proactive, sincere, honest appreciation is what I’m talking about – not insincere, wheedling, manipulative flattery!

Lastly, with regard to your joining a parenting group, I and your teenagers heartily approve of that idea. Parenting groups help us because they ensure that we are thinking about our parenting. If we’re just blindly going down a parenting path, not noticing the impact our actions and behaviors and comments are having on our kids, we could be hurting them left, right, and center, and they will not feel respected. But if we join a group that helps us to sit and think about the impact of our actions on our kids, we will probably become more aware, more gentle, more empathic parents.

Parenting groups are also fertile breeding grounds for innovative ideas; other parents might have handled a situation in a creative way you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. Also, parenting groups help to reduce the pressure you feel to be a perfect parent. When you hear about other parents’ failures, it makes you remember that no mother or father or daughter or son is perfect. And that reduction of perfectionist expectations will help everyone.

If I had to condense the meaning of “being respectful” into one sentence, it would be this: “being respectful” means thinking about and caring about the thoughts and feelings of the other person, and not just about your own, and transmitting those thoughts and caring attitudes to the other person, so they know about your regard for him or her.

I could write for hours on this question; all the permutations and situations and possibilities and scenarios and questions and answers…. But I trust I’ve given you enough food for thought to start a lively, respectful interaction in your home with your teenaged kids.

I invite teens to comment below, to add their own great ideas and helpful suggestions for this mother.

January 26, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 11

(7) Anonymous, December 6, 2015 8:34 PM

Two things

1) not interrupting is key
2) Don't forget that this is two sided. Parents also have to respect their kids. To Scott and his followers -- just because this was one way decades ago doesn't mean it must stay the exact same. Of course parents should be respected by their kids, but they shouldn't lord it over them.
My parents never cared much for torah and mitzvos otherwise, so hearing them go on about kibud av v'aim made me feel sick, as I knew they cared solely for their own benefit.
Never forget to be patient and work with your kids, not against them. Iron fist breeds frightened subservience; unconditional love and patience breeds true love and respect in return.

(6) Marion, February 14, 2014 3:19 AM

It's unacceptable that kids of that age do nothing around the house. Sit them down and tell them: "Peter, Mary: Since you are eleven and fourteen years old now, I am going to treat you like big kids rather than little kids. That means that if you want things done around the house, you will have to help. You will need to do your own washing, including your school clothes, otherwise you will wear dirty clothing. I will show you how to work the machine. You will also need to make your own school lunches (if they don't order from the cafeteria), or go hungry. You will also be responsible for cooking 1/2 nights each a week or you don't eat." In this way, you will be investing choice as to what to do back into them. When they're old enough to drive, I'd also have them wash and vacuum the car if they want to go anywhere.
Name-calling and rudeness: Eleven year old is still little enough for time out - tell him/her to go sit on a chair facing the wall. If s/he refuses to go, give him/her one warning, and tell her that if she doesn't go, she will lose a privilege, eg, missing a tv programme she wanted to watch. If s/he refuses still, tell her s/he lost his/her privilege. The fourteen year old would be too old, but you can still do things like not drive her to school/activities, or give her a curfew/limited internet time and tell her that good behaviour will let her stay out/online later, but time being bad will mean she has to come in or off computer.
Food: Write up a shopping list for the week and ask both kids if there is anything they want from the supermarket - don't promise to get them everything. Get them some things they ask for but not everything. Once the stuff they asked for is gone, that's it - they have to wait till next week/fortnight. As for mealtimes - Have a set meal in mind, and tell them that you won't make them eat the meal, but if they don't, then there is absolutely nothing else to eat until the next meal - have consequences for sneaking food.

Anonymous, August 21, 2015 2:53 AM

I think that what you are describing is way too harsh. As a teenager, I have noticed that some adults think that teenagers have nothing important to worry about; and those same adults are the ones who get mad because students are not taking school seriously enough. The two go hand in hand. If a teen is busy with housework all day, which would happen if the house ran the way you describe it; then they wouldn't have time for homework, reports or studying for tests.
I also don't understand why you would not restock on food for teenagers. I think that there is no reason you shouldn't buy food for your kids in the middle of the week, if there was a food you liked then I am certain you would buy it regardless of weather it is the middle of the week or not.
And regarding food- what exactly is the issue with kids not liking meals? I think the meal should be something that everyone likes, and will eat. What is the purpose of a teen not eating at a meal? And if it is a consistent thing, and they are very picky and only like one or two foods then allow them to make there own meal if they don't like the food provided.

(5) Anonymous, January 30, 2013 6:41 PM

be consistent

However you decide to deal with a situation, such as getting your kids to do chores, BE CONSISTENT. We teens don't like it when one day our parents get upset that we aren't helping with chores and the next day, they totally ignore it. It just confuses us. For example, my parents want me to be independent, and they tell me so, yet sometimes they will insist in doing something for me that I am responsible enough to do my myself. It really bothers me that they are not consistent in their policies. They aren't acting what they preach. Don't react to the same type of situations in different ways, according to your mood. Be consistent- it gives us teens a feeling of security, respect, and openness. Good luck!

Anonymous, February 4, 2013 4:35 AM

I second the motion

I 100% agree with the consistency thing. I am the oldest (adult) child living in my parents home. One day my parents praise me in my business achievements & in the same week they will tell me that I don't know how to be an adult. It can be confusing not only to a teenager, but to anyone. We should all strive to be consistent in everything. Sometimes we strive for perfection, but the best way to grow in life is at a slow steady pace. We can't be consistent if the bar is set too high. Make sure that the expectations you have of your children be easy (baby steps here) enough to consistently do & not get easily overwhelmed. Overtime they will be able to accomplish more. Every year we take on a new mitzvah to better our selves. We are supposed to pick something small that will be easy enough for us to do consistently. Keep this idea in your back pocket when you aren't getting the results you want.

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