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How to Teach High School Kids to Respect Authority

by Erin Schreiner

Many adults lament -- “What is wrong with these kids today?” -- usually after an instance of disrespect. While a frustrating lack of respect can leave you feeling that something is woefully wrong with contemporary children, adopting a defeatist attitude and blaming youth for their lack of respect is an unproductive way to deal with the problem. Even high school students, who may appear set in their ways, can be taught to respect individuals in authority. Instead of just complaining, actively work to teach your teens the value of respect.

Respect your teen. The best way to teach your teen what respect looks like is to be respectful towards him, says award-winning educator, trainer and author Joe Martin for EducationWorld. If you demand respect from him while treating him disrespectfully, you make yourself seem a hypocrite, unworthy of respect, asserts Martin. Verbally reference the fact that you are being respectful towards him, telling him, “I am being very respectful to you by listening to what you have to say. Please be respectful to me in return.”

Model respect for authorities. Your teen hears everything you say. If you allow off-handed comments about a police officer who gave you a ticket or a sports official who botched a call to slip through your lips in your teen’s presence, you inadvertently teach him that it is appropriate to be disrespectful to authority figures. Keep it polite and reverent to encourage your teen to do the same.

Role play appropriate, respectful responses. If you hear from your teen’s school that his responses to those in power are far from respectful -- or witness this disrespect first hand – take a moment to entertain the possibility that he legitimately doesn’t know what a respectful response looks like. Run through the incident again, suggests behavior expert Laura A. Riffel, PhD. of BehaviorDoctor.org. Allow your teen to take on the role of the adult while you take on his role, demonstrating the respectful response he should have provided -- and that he should provide in the future.

Respond to disrespect systematically. Many high school students respond to authority figures -- including their parents -- disrespectfully in an attempt to pull these adults into arguments. Discourage disrespectful responses by teaching your teen that this won’t work, suggests parent coach and author Susan Epstein for the Next Generation Institute. Any time your teen responds disrespectfully, reply calmly with, “please do not speak to me that way.” Regardless of what he says or how disrespectful he becomes, don’t deviate from this response. By doing so, you show him that his efforts to anger you are in vain.

About the Author

Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.

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