Disrespectful Teens vs. Jerk Parents: Why Should They Respect You, Again…?

Yeah, this looks like someone I want to respect and listen to….how do you feel with her finger in your face?

I was sitting here, knitting a pair of gloves for myself when the fall season comes around, and a television show came on -ok, a talk show- where a 16 year old girl took to prostitution and the streets rather than being at home with her mother. As is the usual fashion, the mother was first on the stage, telling the world how awful it is that her daughter won’t listen to her and how she doesn’t understand why her daughter is on the streets. Also customary, the teenager was framed as the problem.

What the mother neglected to say, and what she amply demonstrated after her daughter (who she hadn’t seen in 35 days) entered the stage, was that as a mother she thought it appropriate to scream over her daughter when she tried to talk and hit her with belts and 2×4 pieces of wood to perform “tough love”. Her mother screamed at her to “shut up” and to “listen to her because she is the mother” as the young woman attempted to tell her side of the story. It was by this time I knew I needed to write.

I felt compelled and actually upset and unnerved after seeing this, because I have had a very similar experience as the mother/daughter duo, but now as an adult, I cannot be slapped in the face or have my hair yanked to stop me from talking.

Now, I’m going to talk. In defense of young people and teenagers, who I have incredible sympathy for in today’s confusing and often outright contradictory society.

“Respect what I say or I will beat you with a belt!!” Yeah….in any other circumstance, this would be criminal.

When I was younger, my mother’s “friends” thought I was a problem child. And true enough, I was argumentative and very angry. I was even nicknamed “Wednesday Addams” from the television and film “The Addams Family” because I almost never smiled. Oh, but I guess that’s “normal” with teenagers, right? WRONG.

Well, I admit I was a “problem child” to some degree, but only with my mother. And why was I? Because I was socially suffocated, ignored and abused both physically and emotionally. No one in my house listened to me, no one ever validated my voice or my mind. I felt empty, sad, alone, and valueless. And when I had anything to say, it was rewarded with snide comments, slapping, or arguing. I was given no way of building my own sense of self-worth, value or independence.

My response to this was very different than many of the young people I see in similar situations on television shows. I did not run away from home, cut myself, start having sex, drink alcohol or begin doing drugs. I internalized everything and moved in with my dad when I got the chance. Of course by then, the damage was extensive and quite already done. Now I’m 30 years old and finally pulling myself together because I choose to live extremely healthy, mentally and physically, and that took huge effort and major support from others to accomplish. That’s a lot of years taken away by being burdened with something I have never understood: why is this ok to so many parents? Why is physical “discipline” ever endorsed by any parent, when physical violence is never allowed in society to any end or means? Many of you may argue that what I endured was abuse and not discipline, but how is any form of violence acceptable?

The perpetuation of this stereotype influences society to forget that sometimes it is the parents that are the problem, and young adults are living in reaction to them.

I remember vividly what it felt like to be afraid to be slapped, screamed at, or even pinned down on the floor by a person I am told by society I am supposed to respect and listen to. Honestly, would anyone have any respect for someone like that, parent or otherwise? I remember that all I wanted was to feel like I was important and mattered just as much as anyone else, and not have everything I thought or said reduced to an act of violence or blank-minded, ignorant ranting. I remember how I responded to the violence and insecurity: I buckled down and focused intensely on just getting by until I could get myself away from all the mess and could be on my own. This defense mechanism eventually became an involuntary reflex, which resulted in many of my young adult years being spent in the same way, barreling through life with my head down, not enjoying a thing, numb to most experiences, still waiting for when “real life” begins.

Of course, by the time you realize that life has been happening all along, it’s a bit of a shock.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone either. Many teenagers and young people are constantly dealing with the idiotic notion that they are somehow supposed to respect and listen to their parents, while their parents act like violent, ignorant punks. Some young people are going to respond by hurting themselves through drugs and other risky activities, and others -probably more others- will do what I did, and inject themselves with apathy, expecting it to wear off one day but unaware that it doesn’t….without serious help.

How about we stop insulting the minds of young people? How about parents stop thinking that they have some innate right to be respected and obeyed by other human beings, and earn it by actually being what they think their young adult and children to be? Sure young adults and children need boundaries and protection; they aren’t mature enough mentally to be fully independent. But how about parents approach young people in light of what they actually are: thinking, feeling, independent human beings with their own ethics, morals and viewpoints, the same way everyone in society should afford respect to strangers because we are all so wonderfully different.

I felt the need to say all of this because I get tired of teenagers and young adults being treated as if they are never valid in their feelings or actions, but rather a ticking time bomb fueled by some ambiguous concept of “raging hormones”; someone not to be considered a real human being, but some object in progress. I certainly felt like this, and not because I was a “problem child”, but because I had a “problem parent”.

Did I mention that the mother on the talk show also admitted to stripping her daughter naked and putting her outside after telling her she was fat, to “keep her from running away”? Her rationale for this behavior? Apparently no one will run off outside naked. The talk show host later said about her mother, “…she has made some mistakes but clearly, she loves her [daughter].” The host also managed to get the daughter to return home with her family, a real “success” story. Yeah, trauma and humiliation are about on par with love, sure.

When would that ever apply to any other situation in society?

Just my thoughts on the matter, I’m sure my readers may have some interesting insights…

6 thoughts on “Disrespectful Teens vs. Jerk Parents: Why Should They Respect You, Again…?

  1. As an “antisocial, crybaby” former teen and a teacher at an inner-city middle school I definitely relate to this topic! Respect is earned, and respect can be killed. Adults are owed at least the appearance of respect on first meeting, but if an adult repeatedly proves they aren’t worthy of that respect, so be it. Children learn through actions way better than they learn from words, and they learn best from mentors they believe have their best interests in mind. As my first principal used to tell me, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

    • Thanks so much for your comment Christina! Wow, you sound like you must work with a long of young people who struggle everyday. I admire your ethic with inner-city kids and teens; I understand that the challenge of working with youth in an environment where poverty, violence, and familial abuse can be the most difficult teaching position, but also the most rewarding when you can make a real, lasting difference. I’m glad you added to this topic…our society frames young people as something to be feared and implicitly reminds parents that the teenage years should anticipated like a incoming hurricane, neglecting the real diversity of young people. Having a strong sociological background, I have read great literature and articles on the inner life of contemporary children and teens, which has made me very empathetic towards young people, especially the way they are typically depicted in popular media.

      Keep doing great things for disadvantaged young people, and knitting all the while in between. ;)

  2. As a teen I remember being told that teens were so irrational (and I will freely admit that I was pretty irrational as a teen) because their brain was undergoing changes similar to what toddlers went through during the “terrible twos.” So while I never experienced what you did, it certainly had (and continues to have) a huge impact on me. The idea that as a teen I “deserved” to be treated like a two year old certainly leaves a lasting mark.

    Really, thank you so much for talking about this! I haven’t watched cable TV for quite some time (Netflix is more affordable and I can watch Star Trek!) but I used to watch the Jerry Springer Show with some level of regularity (when working overnights your show choices are fairly limited) and I often had thoughts identical to what you’ve conveyed here. It doesn’t matter what your role is in a persons life, if you treat them with love and respect you will get love and respect back.

    • :D I actually don’t have cable TV, my husband and I don’t pay at all for TV, just get local channels. While I acknowledge and respect that there is a very real biological component to teenage brains that affects their behavior, i.e. promotes risky activities, what I am concerned with is how culture constructs the scary and hormonal young person as a time bomb waiting to explode. Biological issues in all, teenagers and young people are individuals and such be evaluated and treated as such. This construction is so ingrained in U.S. society that as a group we spend less on young people’s welfare than any other group, such as senior citizens. Not only are young people undermined by their lack of respect in our culture, they are provided for less by our social systems. :( Thanks for you feedback! :D

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