Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Lack of respect from children and teens towards adults in authority, including parents, is at epidemic proportions. The impact this situation creates in schools is widespread and varies greatly in type and severity of incident. Disrespect in the classroom can range from refusing to take a seat when requested to seeking retaliation for discipline or poor grades. The results of this disrespect can include defiant reactions, verbal assaults, and physical attacks, some resulting in death.
The reports that I found during my research included that of a teacher who was attacked after insisting that one of her students take her seat so that she could begin class. The girl approached her teacher, leaning into her face, cursing and threatening her. When the teacher told the student that she was threatening her and that the teacher would defend herself if necessary, the student began pummeling the teacher with her fists. The teacher did not defend herself and received a ruptured blood vessel in her eye and other minor injuries. When the principal passed judgment on the incident, he ruled that the teacher provoked the student.
The is a prime example of the problem that must be dealt with if we are to see our students gain the most benefit from their primary education system. The young girl should have been taught from an early age that she is to show respect for adults in authority positions, including teachers. If she was not going to seat herself when the bell rang for class, she should have promptly took her seat when asked by her teacher. Threatening and cursing her teacher should never have crossed her mind. Most pitiful is the lack of support from school administration when the teacher was beaten. Despite the fact that she indicated she would defend herself, the teacher did not strike back at the student once.
Other incidents include a coach who was beaten with a metal pipe when he broke up a fight because the combatants did not want to be stopped; three students who joined together to crush up pills found in their home medicine cabinets and put them in a teacher’s water bottle when she was out of the room; a student who stabbed a teacher with a pencil because the teacher told her that her math class work was incorrect; and a student who added Visine to her teacher’s coffee because “she just isn’t a good teacher.” (Did you know that ingesting Visine can cause severe intestinal distress and coma?)
When I was in high school, we were in our seats when the bell rang for class; we did not talk while the teacher was talking; we did as we were told; and we did not consider hitting a teacher. The worse incident I experienced was when another student picked up our 4 foot tall science teacher and gently placed her in the three foot tall trash can in our classroom. That same student immediately took himself down to the principal’s office and turned himself in. The teacher was not injured, though she was thoroughly disrespected.
What has happened that our children now believe that they do not have to display respect and that violence in the answer to their problems? One possible cause is that our children and teens do not receive a sufficient amount of parental supervision and instruction. I believe that we can agree that time is quite valuable. Being a single parent, it is woefully apparent that we have only so much time in which to cram so very many responsibilities. That is why it is so very important that we use the time we have to its best benefit. Making sure that you have dinner with your children at least four nights a week can be critical in helping them obtain and maintain necessary skills for getting along with others in the real world and provides an excellent opportunity for you to have their full attention for important conversations – or just a little family fun. E-mail makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with teachers. Make a point of introducing yourself and of dropping them a line throughout the year to assess your student’s performance – on both an academic and behavioral level. Initiating this communication will let your student’s teachers know that you care about their education and that you are there to support them as they teach your child(ren). Talk to your children. It takes a bit more effort to accomplish, however, try to ask your student questions that cannot be answered with “yes” or “no”. It is their very nature to keep conversations with parents to a minimum, so if they can answer in mono-syllables, they will. Challenge them to a conversation and you may learn quite a bit that you did not know about your children.
All of our children need to learn the common courtesies. I imagine that most of us believe that we have taught them well in this area. However, children learn best by example. Assess the examples you are setting when you deal with the disinterested grocery clerk, the irate driver who cuts you off, or the boss who makes you want to pull your hair out. Are you displaying the behavior that you would want your children to model in similar situations? When children see their parents behaving in a certain manner, they come to believe that behavior is acceptable. We all slip up, but if we do so in front of our children, we should correct ourselves and point out to our children that there is a better way to handle the situation.
We need to teach our children how to deal with difficult situations in a positive manner. We need to show them how to talk with difficult people effectively. We need to help them understand that they are not going to be perfect and are not expected to be perfect in order to help them understand that a defensive nature is not needed when they are confronted with corrective measures. We need to model this behavior, as well. Admitting to our own mistakes and imperfections lets them know that it is okay to be “human.” There are a wide variety of “coping” mechanisms available and we should help our children explore these to find what works best for them.
My suggestions are minor and meant to deal with the minor incidents of disrespect. As for the major behavior problems that result from blatant disrespect, I am afraid there is not clear solution. Parents and teachers must work together and support each other when dealing with the extreme cases. Teachers need to know that they have the backing of administration when they have to take steps to discipline students. Parents should not be afraid to seek help for their children when they realize that they are having extreme reactions to disciplinary issues. It is without doubt that by the time our children are acting out to this extreme in school, the same behaviors have already been experienced at home. Ignoring it will not make it go away.
With effort, we can begin to make a difference with the problem of disrespect towards authority in our schools. It will take a lot of work and we cannot give up, even when we feel there is no hope. Encourage your children to talk to you about what they see in their classrooms and help them understand that there is a better way.