Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a great movie. This is almost an objective fact. The humor is driven by the idea that this high school kid is significantly more clever and intelligent than any and all adults he encounters. It, of course, plays to what all teenagers know to be true: They are smarter than the adults who try to tell them what to do. If you have a teenager, this dynamic is not news to you.
Teens distrust authority. This is both developmental (pushing boundaries) and a result of the seemingly daily dose of information we get about authority figures who have failed us (see church abuse, political scandal, incidents of police brutality). And yet we know that authority isn’t inherently bad. In fact, in most cases, our teens need to respect authority to thrive in life. Here are 5 essentials in raising respectful teenagers.
1. Be honest.
Don’t lie to your teen. Certain teachers, pastors, politicians, police officers, and others in authority do terrible things. Dismissing the truth about them because you’re afraid your teen then will distrust all authority simply reinforces the idea that authority figures (e.g., you) can’t be trusted. Raising respectful teenagers begins with being honest with them.
2. Be the change you wish to see.
If you want to prove that authority figures are worthy of respect, be the kind of authority figure who is worthy of respect. Make a list of what you want your teen to have modeled for him or her in their authority figures. Then ask yourself: “Do I display this for my teens? Are they more or less likely to trust authority figures based on their interactions with me, their dad?”
3. Be intentional.
While most of the authority figures your teen will interact with are not ones you get to choose, you can be intentional about creating connections with adults who model the kind of integrity you want your child to see. Do you know someone who is in a position of authority who models what you want your teen to see? Be intentional about spending time with that person and your teen. Expose your teens to folks who are worthy of their respect. Then talk with them about that experience.
4. Be respectful to authority yourself.
Raising respectful teenagers is as much about modeling as anything. How do you respond to the authority figures in your life? How do you talk about your parents? What do you say about your boss at home? How do you speak about politicians? You are teaching your teen how to view authority the same way you view authority. Be respectful.
5. Be respectful to teens.Raising respectful teenagers is impossible if your teen doesn’t feel respected him or herself.
It’s easy for us to dismiss the concerns of teens as naïve or self-centered or simply ignorant of how the “real world” works. However, raising respectful teenagers is impossible if your teen doesn’t feel respected him or herself. Of course you still need to correct your teen and challenge him or her. But dismissing a teen’s viewpoints or refusing to take a teen seriously is a great way to undermine his or her ability to respect you—and all other authority figures.
Sound off: What other tips do you have for raising respectful teenagers?
Huddle up with your teen and ask, “Who is one authority figure that you respect? Why?”