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Most of us agree that children and teens these days are more obnoxious, bratty, spoiled, and entitled than ever before. Take one look at social media and you will see hundreds of comments about how disrespectful our children have become. If you Google the words “kids disrespectful”, thousands of articles and images come up confirming this long held belief that this generation of children is like no other.

But what if we’re all wrong? What if we are all making a big deal out of nothing? Are kids these days really that much worse than we were? Didn’t our grandparents think the same of our parents? What about the generations before that? Here’s an interesting quote I found while perusing the Internet. “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” Guess what? This was Socrates who lived 470 BCE to 399 BCE.

How can it be that parents felt the same way about kids thousands of years ago as we do today? Maybe, just maybe, it is normal. Call me crazy, but I actually take comfort in knowing that parents have faced the same struggles and dilemmas for thousands of years. Maybe we’re not such failures as parents after all. Maybe it’s really just part of being a kid to be disrespectful. Maybe all kids feel entitled and have bad manners. Is this part of their development? Something they need to go through to figure out who they are and how to be a successful adult? Perhaps we’ve just become too nit-picky as parents that we just care more about everything little thing our kids do? Perhaps we’ve gone too far and just have really unrealistic expectations of how kids should behave. Of course, no one really knows the answers to all of these questions, but it’s certainly worth pondering.

Here is what we do know. Nobody wants an obnoxious kid. Luckily, there are things you can do to ensure that yours isn’t.

  1. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. From the earliest age, children need to know that they cannot just do whatever they want. And they need you to set the guidelines and the boundaries. It’s not always easy, but it’s your job. Did you think parenting was supposed to be easy? It’s not, but you signed up for it, so do it well.
  2. Be a parent, not a friend. Your kids need friends, but it’s not supposed to be you. You need to be the authority figure, and don’t worry so much about upsetting your child or making sure they like you. Sometimes they won’t. Deal with it.
  3. Don’t over indulge your child. Don’t but them a Mercedes when they turn 16. Sometimes, make them save their own money to buy something they want. I’m all in favor of giving them nice things and going to nice places, but not all the time and not just because they want it. Make those moments the exception, not the rule, and make them special. A nice gift and/or meal for a birthday or holiday can be appropriate. But if it’s Mercedes, new iPhones and filet mignon all the time, your kids will be in for a rude awakening when they leave home and actually can’t have all of that whenever they want.
  4. Do not allow your child to be disrespectful to you or others. That means you call them out on it every single time, and have consequences for them doing so. Do not ignore this behavior or you are telling your child that it is acceptable, which it is not. Lying, talking back, rolling eyes, and breaking rules are all forms of disrespect.
  5. Make sure your child understands the difference between needs/rights and privileges. There are very few actual needs. Don’t be afraid to take away privileges when they haven’t been earned.
  6. Be consistent. Remind yourself that all of this will pass, and your job is to teach and guide your child into adulthood.

Most importantly, don’t dwell on the bad behavior. Do what you need to do, and then move on. Remind yourself that this is what children do, and it’s what they’ve done for thousands of years. It probably won’t change any time soon, so just hang in there. If you do this right, one day, your child will be all grown up and a light bulb will go off. He will remember everything you taught him, and be a respectful, productive and respectful adult.

When your 7 year old child’s overnight playdate is disrespectful to you, what do you do? Should you send him home? Should you discipline him? Should you be honest when his mother asks about his behavior? And most important, what do you say to your child?

When a snarky voice from your child’s BFF says things like, “My house is bigger than yours” and “My mom’s cooking is better than yours” how do you stop from retaliating and stooping to his level of rude remarks when what you want to say is, “Oh yeah? Well you can just go back to your house and eat your mom’s cooking then.” How do you take the high road and say something like, “Oh that’s nice”?

Then when it gets followed by, “Open my lollipop, NOW” and, “I don’t have to” when asked to eat in the kitchen, or “WHY?!” when asked not to kick the door, it gets close to the edge of contemplating child abuse.

Worse still…When told not to do that after throwing a dirty sock in your face only to have the other one thrown in your face or to continue kicking a soccer ball at the window when told to stop or grabbing and eating any food in sight, you are ready to call the henchmen in. You grin and bear it, get through the night only to get more of the same the next morning, and finally get to take him home. What do you say when his mother asks how he behaved? “Oh fine” and run to the car swearing your child will never play with him ever again.

Okay, you deal with the sleepover with gritted teeth but now what? The kids go to school together. This unmannered, entitled child is your son’s best friend. You see his mother almost everyday at pickup. Surely she’ll ask for another playdate. What is the right thing to do? Blow her off? Hope that you can simply evade a decision by saying, “Oh sure. I’m really busy for the next couple weeks, but I’ll get back to you”? Tell your son he can’t have him over again? What’s the right thing to do?

Believe it or not this is a valuable teaching scenario for your son. After the child has gone home, this is the time to seize the moment. Be honest and upfront with your child. “Well, that experience did not go down well with me at all. I felt very badly treated. Do you know why? Did you sense how upset I was?”

This is your opportunity to teach your values without jamming You need to do such and such down his throat. This is your show-don’t-tell-moment. You can be very clear about how you felt with each transgression as long as you own your feelings, which you can do without blaming the transgressor. You don’t need to say, You may never have him over here again. I don’t want you ever to play with him. When you share with your child how you experienced what happened, your child can listen. Telling him to be respectful of others when he is at someone’s house doesn’t hold a candle to this lesson.

Then add, “How do you think you would have handled a situation like that?” “What do you think you would have said if his mother asked you to stop doing something?” Again no need to tell or lecture. He will get a very strong message from your personal experience.

Then what next? When your son wants him to come over again, you can prepare yourself by anticipating the same rude behavior. So no sleepover. If he is rude, you can say, “I don’t like to be spoken to that way. Would you please try again and speak to me differently.” Then, if he doesn’t appear to hear you or care, “If you don’t want to follow our rules, I’ll be happy to take you home.” Then, to his mom who asks about the early return, “He seemed to be having a hard time at our house.” Period.

Impressive lesson taught. No blame. No put-downs. No lecture. No submerging your feelings and living with resentment. You are taking responsibility for yourself and what you deserve. An admirable modeling job for your son.