Living with Children: Debunking the bumper sticker

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I just experienced a flashback, but fear not, it wasn’t freaky. I was thinking about the parenting revolution that began in the late 1960s and quickly overwhelmed America’s homes and schools. During this reverie, I remembered a bumper sticker that adorned many a suburban mini-van during that time. It read: Respect Your Child!

Parents were encouraged to respect their children’s needs for attention, self-esteem, autonomy, affirmation, and other things no previous generation of parents thought children needed; not in abundance, at least. In effect, the new experts encouraged parents to think of their children as peers.

“You wouldn’t say ‘Because I said so’ to a friend of yours, would you?” asked the new parenting experts. “Of course not! How would your friend feel if you said that to him? Not so good, right? Right! So, don’t say it to your child, either.”

Huh? I began to think that the only mental health professional in America who perceived the irrationality of this new parenting propaganda was me. That’s a heavy burden, folks. Just kidding.

When I began challenging blarney of that sort in this newspaper column, the mental health community went nuts. En masse, they demanded of newspaper editors that they drop my column. I was “dangerous,” they said. They actually used that word in letters to editors and not a few times. I was “encouraging child abuse” was another example of the mass hysteria I brought about in people who were supposed to be paragons of proper mental functioning.

Thus reminiscing, I flashed back to the bumper sticker. So, let’s talk about it.

I never felt respected by my parents. That would be the testimony of probably 99.9 percent of folks my age, who were children when child and teen mental health in America was whoppingly better than it is today.

My parents loved me. They provided for me adequately (albeit, from my childish point of view, never sufficiently). They were, I knew in my heart of hearts, the reason I wasn’t scavenging on the streets like one of Dickens’ waifs. But respect? Hardly.

My thesaurus gives the following synonyms for the word respect: admiration, high opinion, reverence, look up to, and deference. Nope, my parents did not respect me.

Quite the contrary, the respect went in the other direction. I respected them. I respected them for being hard-working people who took good care of me and loved me despite my all-too frequent episodes of badness. They had my best interests in mind (albeit I failed to appreciate that fact of my life).

What has a child done to deserve RESPECT from adults, parents or otherwise — to have them admire, revere, and look up to him? Absolutely nothing. He does not support himself and absent his parents’ provision and protection, would fall prey to all manner of harm.

The rule of thumb: A child’s respect for his parents is inversely proportional to their respect for him.

Too bad that won’t fit on a bumper sticker.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]