All of you know that it is true – in this epidemic of disrespect that is washing over our children and affecting every portion of our society, the most difficult element of disrespect is when our children have no respect for themselves.
Our children have many methods for disrespecting themselves. Some are quiet and hardly noticeable from the outside; others are violent, loud and obtrusive. Some solicit little attention and others are desperate cries for much needed help. These include, but are not limited to, experimenting with alcohol and drugs, ignoring the importance of education in their lives, ignoring the advice and guidance of parents and teachers, refusing to care for their own bodies and minds, abusing their bodies and minds, outward appearances that project a persona of low self-worth, anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation, and other life-endangering behaviors, and engaging in promiscuous and reckless sexual behavior.
Before you declare that your child isn’t involved in any of these behaviors and/or wouldn’t know how to begin an involvement in any of these behaviors, let me inform you of a few facts that most parents do not realize.
47% of all high school students have had sex. 7% of these were sexually active before the age of 13. (CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance)
10.8 million persons between the ages of 12-20 report drinking in the past month. 7.2 million of these are binge drinkers and 2.3 million consider themselves heavy drinkers. (SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health)
62% of high-schoolers and 28% of middle-schoolers go to schools where drugs are used, kept or sold. (CASA National Survey)
Half of America’s youth have tried cigarettes before they graduate high school. (Monitoring the Future)
Many of the behaviors in which teens indulge in order to punish themselves or maintain a sense of control over their lives are not well enough studied and documented for accurate statistics to be obtained. However, incidents of self-mutilation and other expression of self-injury are on the rise.
It is very important that we keep the lines of communication open between parents and children. As parents, we all too often “scare” our children out of talking to us. Would you want to talk to your parents about your questions about sex, drugs, alcohol, or other issues (bullying, weight, appearances) if they immediately countered your comments with orders or admonishments? One of the most important communication skills for a parent is the art of listening. To listen to a teen and take what they tell you in seriousness can be most difficult and yet can be the key to being able to have an impact on their thoughts, actions and lives. Telling a teen that it doesn’t matter what their friends think (even if you know it to be true) helps very little when their popularity and their importance depends on what those friends think about them.
After you listen to their concerns and to the situation in which they find themselves, explain to them how these risky behaviors will negatively impact them. Teach them skills for dealing with people who will give them a hard time because they choose not to go along with the crowd. Give them alternative options for a social life that will take off the stress of public expectations (youth group, Boys & Girls Club, Scouting). Tell them how much you think of them; accentuate their strong points; build them up so that when the world attempts to know them down, they are strong and fortified. Just giving them the time it takes to listen to their problems and respond with real care and concern let’s them know that they are important to you.
Children/Teens need to hear WHY they should respect themselves. Why is it important not to harm your body with alcohol and drugs? Why should they wait until marriage to have sex? Religious reasons are both practical and sound; however, your child/teen may need to hear more than “because it is what is right/what God expects, etc.” Give them every-day living reasons, too. Let them know how alcohol and drugs can harm their bodies. Talk to them about the risks of HPV, HIV/AIDS and other STDs. Talk to them about the difficulty of raising a baby when they are barely grown themselves. Let them know that there are other ways to deal with stress, depression, anxiety and anger than by taking it out on their bodies and minds.
Lately I have met many parents who are intent on becoming their child/teen’s best friend instead of their parent. There are lots of other children/teens in their classes, neighborhoods, church groups, etc., who will gladly take on the role of your child’s best friend. It is our job to parent. Setting limits, providing guidance, developing structure for their lives, and making sure that they know they are loved an unconditionally as a human being can manage are all aspects of our job. It is okay if they are mad at us, upset with us, or won’t talk to us. They will eventually need us again and will be right back to us when they do.
Being a parent who cares by setting limits and providing guidance instead of allowing children to determine their own lifestyles will definitely give them the basic groundwork for building instead of demolishing their self-respect.