What does it mean to build respect between adults and teenagers? Respect means we have high regard or admiration for another’s views and feelings. We value their abilities and inner qualities.
Sadly, many of today’s teens feel undervalued and misjudged by adults. Could our language be part of the problem?
A teenager recently wrote to me, saying “I understand teens have issues… I am a teen. I get these things….I hate it when people generalize that teens love experimenting with drugs and sex and other risks and that we are ‘little sponges’ soaking up social norms that we must counteract. How are happy teenagers supposed to feel? Should they feel strange because they don’t take part in what other teenagers do?”
I’m always grateful to hear what teens are thinking. And this young woman made a great point. When we generalize about teenagers, we run the risk of losing their respect.
You’ll find lots of popular articles on “how to teach respect to children,” but respect is assimilated through language and modeling, not through the act of traditional “teaching.” Even young children understand when adults are not walking their talk. By adolescence, those mixed messages can cause deeper and deeper divides between teens and adults.
Researchers Hal Holloman and Peggy Yates have studied the topic of respect and how it gets translated through the words we use. Their research, outlined in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, focused on teachers and students, but it is also applicable to parents and families.
What they learned is not surprising. When we give respect, we get it back in return. When we respect children and teens, they learn to believe in themselves and us. They feel valued and loved. We feel valued and loved.
Respect is a two-way street where adults are the pace-setter cars.
How does language change the course of our relationships with teens and build a culture of mutual respect? Holloman and Yates discovered eleven categories of words that foster respect. They found that rephrasing words from a negative to a positive context helps develop a culture of respect. The eleven categories are listed below, with word samples for each.
While language is critical to building a culture of respect in families and classrooms, it can’t stop there. It is only when we practice these eleven categories of words with everyone in our lives that we truly learn to “walk our talk.” Children and teens know the difference!
Holloman, H., & Yates, P. H. (2013). Cloudy With a Chance of Sarcasm or Sunny With High Expectations Using Best Practice Language to Strengthen Positive Behavior Intervention and Support Efforts. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 15(2), 124-127.
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is the author of Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation. A developmental psychologist and researcher, she works at the intersection of positive youth development and education.
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©2014 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Please see the reprint guidelines for Marilyn's articles.