Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Yes Sir!" Teaching Respect for Authority

My grandfather turned to hear me and firmly but lovingly asked,
“Excuse me, What did you say?” 
“Uh huh” I heard my teen-age self mumble.
“Yes? Did you mean to say Yes?” 
“Yes? Did you mean to say Yes?” only this time he quieted his tone. 
“Yes.” I repeated and looked at his strong shoulders as they turned toward me.
“Yes, What?” 
As I looked up at him I didn’t know what he meant so I  said.. “Just Yes?” 
“Yes, Sir. When you speak to your grandfather you should say Yes, Sir.” 
Such a lesson, I never forgot. 

 Cultural Differences? 
Many cultures raise their children to speak to their elders with respect. Although it might appear to be a dying practice, traditionally most societies honor cultural practices that help  youth learn to revere those that love, raise, sacrifice for, protect, and teach them.
Having grown up in the deep south, I don't feel that many "southerners" would disagree with me when I say that the Southern culture demands that when youth address their elders, they  use, “Sir and Ma'am”.  But as I recently learned from some of my 'non-native' neighbors the teaching of societal respect comes as much (if not more) from the home as from regional cultures. Much like my own experience, one neighbor’s daughter who was not raised to say “Yes Ma'am” faced gentle discipline (that according to the girl bordered on ridicule) from a substitute teacher when she responded with a simple “yes.” 
When teachers, social leaders, or even family members instruct your child on how they should be or would like to be addressed, how should you respond? How do you teach your youth to speak to adults? When there is a disagreement between cultures, how do you address the situation? 
Why is there a situation? 
In the past, (the 1930's)when families were more connected and over 70%  of families (U.S. Census) resided in small farming communities, children were taught conversational and societal respect around the dinner table.  Also most members of the community  were usually part of their extended network of family (cousins, in-laws etc).  In our modern mobile society these ties and customs that bound us together have been all but been broken and lost. Not only does it seem strange (to most of this generation) to address a stranger by these titles, but it also seems strange to be addressed by these those whom we don’t have a network with. It is of significant note to understand that...

  "In all of history, we are the first parents to raise and educate an entire generation of young people without the active involvement of networks of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, neighbors, in-laws and friends" 

(Raising Self Reliant Children, Glenn & Nelson)
Why Respectful Titles are Important: 
Because America is a representation of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds there are many different views and opinions as to the proper way the younger generations should address their elders.  But regardless of the diversity the universal reasons for respect remain: 
Respectful Titles help youth: 
  • Learn the value of self respect as they see it emulated both in and toward their elders
  • Learn to whom they can turn to for advice, comfort, or wisdom (someone respected)
  • Understand the value of being respected by society and by their cultural values
  • Understand the societal structure on which they can depend for strength and guidance
  • Understand the expectations and importance of societal roles
  • Understand the position of authority both within the home and within society
  • Remember the wisdom that older generations have and want to share.
  • Think about to whom and how they speak

Earn not Learned

Some believe that respect from elders should be earned not learned. But to youth who have limited understanding of the value of experience that their elders may have, it needs to be first learned and then understood.  By addressing our elders with respectful terms we are reminded that they have experience to be shared and wisdom to be gleaned.  As the generational gap continues to separate, respectful titles and addresses are but one small way to give back the love.
So.. Southern culture or not... I am grateful and proud to say (thanks to my southern grandfather)  that when addressing my "northern" father, I always say, "Yes, sir."  

A point of interest... from Amy Vanderbilt's, "Complete Book of Etiquette"
"Yes, Ma'am" and "No, sir" are terms of respect still used in certain areas of the South, particularly by children when addressing adults -- or by younger adults to their seniors. It's still common practice in many schools for students to address a male teach as "sir." It's a matter of personal choice --- if you want your children to adopt this custom, you must instruct them. " (page 657)
Does it all seem to formal to you?  

What is the alternative to teaching respect? 

What "titles" have you chosen to use to help your youth understand the importance of respect both in your family and in society?
by Linda Shaw

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