Yes, don’t do that



Last week, an area parent posted online about taking her children to the park, only to have some local preteens show up and ruin the experience by being “disrespectful”. As with pretty much any topic of local discussion, opinions were divided when the original poster asked if she was in the wrong for asking the kids to be more respectful. Ask and you shall receive opinions, mine included. And this particular topic happens to be one that I know a lot about. 

I am all about respect – I work in the school system, where day-to-day life would turn to chaos without basic rules, boundaries, respect, and consequences. One thing to remember, though, is that respect runs both ways.

Kids will be kids and teens will be teens. “Disrespectful” may be the correct word for name-calling or swearing (both of which happened in the incident that was reported online), but what does it take to get to that point? Are teenagers just naturally inclined to run their mouths at everyone they meet? Are all teenagers naturally menaces to young children? Or… is it possible that teenagers all go through the same awkward, boisterous, hormone-filled phases that most of us remember going through? Coupled with an unfortunate “labelling” of many teenagers as innately “up to no good” no matter where they go or what they do, the result may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I have noticed in my work that teenagers are innately “feared” by young children, probably because of the “loud” character of their demeanor. I actively work to change that. When running the after school program at the school I work at, teenagers will often come and use the basketball court, or sometimes just socialize in the yard. The younger kids in my care are almost always fearful and don’t want to be anywhere near the teens. I actively encourage the younger kids to interact with the teens! Most of the time, the teens are all too eager to act as “big buddies”, teaching sports moves and sometimes even giving wholesome advice. 

Another thing I have noticed is that when I approach teens with basic respect, I always get it in return. If I hear swearing, I am obligated to address it for the sake of the little ones’ ears, but I always realize that conflict breeds conflict, while collaboration and mutual respect gets positive results. I’ll walk up and shoot a couple of balls with them. I’ll make casual, positive small talk. And I’ll open the discussion of the issue by pointing out how I love to see local teens using the schoolyard as a “hub” for hangouts, and that they are more than welcome to share the space with us. Then, the simplest sentence in a light tone can work unbelievable magic: “Can you guys watch the swearing though? Just because the little ones tend to repeat things.” I have never, in all my years, had a bad reaction to this approach. The conversation is filled with nothing but respect from the beginning, and the solid promises made – whether it be to keep rough behaviour to a minimum, or to leave half the court free for the younger kids, or to clean up the language – are always kept. 

There will be those who will read my above suggestions and argue that I am “woke” (I still don’t fully understand what that means). I have a problem with this. If you will accept nothing besides instant obedience when barking orders at a group of teens who were just out trying to have some fun without turning to vandalism, or drugs, or fighting, then YOU are the problem. If you prefer obedience over real solutions, then you believe in control, not respect. 

We complain about kids of all ages being on their video games too much. We encourage them to play outside. Note that in the social media post I referred to earlier, the teens’ original “offense” was jumping on the teeter totters. Well… bigger kids tend to enjoy more boisterous play. Regardless of their age, they are still local kids trying to have fun at a public park. Discouraging teens from having fun outside after relentlessly encouraging them to play outside is like having them ask “Should we play at the park?” and answering with “Yes, don’t do that”. 

I don’t doubt that there are some local teens who need some discipline, and for whom respect does not come naturally. However, if we are to accept that “it takes a village to raise a child”, then we need to model basic respect, courtesy, and understanding for our older youth as well. Parents beware: your little ones will be teens someday too. 


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