Why don’t American kids respect their parents more?

First, you are welcome to challenge the premise that there is in fact less respect for parents in the United States.  But if it were true, what might be the possible mechanisms?

1. American parents have less time to discipline their kids, in part because women are more likely to work, wages are higher, and there is a general rush and hurry.

2. American culture is less closely tied to the entire notion of hierarchy and respect, whether or not kids are in the picture.

3. The American divorce rate is relatively high.

4. Balance is difficult, and a tipping point requires that someone be in charge.  In America that is the kids, although the underlying reasons for this difference may be quite small.

5. America is saturated in mass media, and that culture encourages the independence of the child, most of all because children are prime viewers of TV and drivers of Nielsen ratings.

6. Americans are more mobile, and thus less likely to live near grandparents, support structures, and other mechanisms of norm enforcement.

7. It is simply a time trend.  Americans are ahead of the rest of the world but everyone else is catching up.  Give them time, it’s just like how we will all come to resemble California someday.

8. "In America it depends on how parents behave and whether particular parents deserve to be treated with respect.  Parents don’t get respect automatically just because they are parents."  I’m not going to tell you who said that one.

9. Some other notion of American exceptionalism.

Your views?  Google appears to yield few answers to this question or even attempts at an answer…


#8 Reminds me of a bit from George Carlin's stand-up act. Bravo Tyler. Bravo.

Today's kids have parents that grew up in an era devoted to challenging authority. Since the parents don't respect authority, why would their kids respect parents?

As a parent of a two year old, I disagree with any explanation requiring than a two year old's experience of American culture.

I blame abundance -- my kid will never experience a world where the fridge and the TiVO aren't full and thus doesn't encounter the kind of natural limits kids in most societies experience.

The abundance, changing opportunity cost of women working, etc. explanations get at the delta of American family behavior -- why things have changed over time. They do not explain the level differences across cultures. Many of these same forces are at work for Asian-American families as well but a disinterested observer would note that in East Asian American households (immigrants from Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, HK) there is more willingness to assert authority, more emphasis on saving face, more emphasis on familial duty, and less of a desire on the part of parents to be a "cool pal" who explains every request. Yes, Oriental Americans complain about assimilation and how Americanized their kids seem but I'm struck by how even third generation families have norms that differ on many margins from their fellow boomer or Gen X families who are White. It's not surprising that familial conflicts more closely resemble those of stereotypical jewish or italian families from the 40s and 50s.

Parents want to be friends, not authority figures, so they don't set behavior boundaries and maintain consistency with disciplinary actions. We should all learn from Supernanny.

(I don't really believe this problem is a new one.)

Europeans also have more respect for "Professors", more respect for paternalistic policies, more respect for scientists. Maybe Americans just question themselves more, maybe parents in the US don't respect themselves as much and kids pick up on it. It remains to be argued whether "respect" is a good thing. Hayek talked about respecting certain traditions that evolved with time, but creative destruction and progress imply some kind of disrespect at its root. So it's not clear.

A related issue, why are people taking to home schooling in astonishing numbers? Its amazing how colleges frantically market to pick up decent students (home schoolers) these days. I have faculty ask me to locate such for their classes..

It seems to me that the (us) boomers split in parenting, half were
relatively traditional and half were "do your own thing" types.

Add to that the river of filth in the popular culture and I can see
why the parent-child relationship has changed.

I am optimistic however, the pendulum may be swinging back.

Women working? Oh, come on. Isn't the idea of the mother staying at home a relatively new phenomenon anyway (like, the 50s)?

And women are more likely to work in America than in Europe? Is that what the comparison is? I just want to be clear because I wasn't sure I understood.

Lot's of good answers, but I'd go primarily with (2). I spent a few years as the only American in an otherwise all European organization, and one behavior that really stood out was the Europeans' exponentially higher respect for authority, particularly academic/government. One of the primary political differences between the US and Europe (maybe I should say "and the rest of the world") lies in the relative effectiveness of appeals to authority in political argument.

Whether there's been a decline in respect for parental authority here in the US is a different matter.

Congruent with other comments:

In the US there is much less of a common and established way of life. There is more cultural fragmentation, criticism, and competition. People are much less of a folk. The English language, the size and diversity of the country, and America's international cultural penetration extends and opens the relevant community. In the US, in cultural matters, fewer things, particularly deeper existential things, are common knowledge. In matters of identity, there is a greater openness. All this gives kids more uncertainty about who they are/should be. They are more faced with the challenge of "who am I to be?" Also, they have more to draw on in analyzing their parents' worldviews.

All these things, too, may make the parents more inclined to control and hold on to their children's identity, because the parents too feel more lost existentially. They are more inclined to use their children to sustain an identity for themselves. That is, American parents might be more worth pushing away.

Along with the lesser respect for parents comes another American characteristic: greater creativity and originality.

One thing is curious, the notion that lack of respect for one's parents is a bad thing. Such characteristics have been generically bemoaned by every older generation since practically forever. And as far as the US is concerned, the negative results are not clearly correlated. Is there any evidence to suggest that US prosperity has suffered, or will suffer, as a result of the lack of respect for American parents by their kids?

The notion of respect may also be somewhat broad. There's a difference between not going to law school like Mother wants you to, and keeping her tied up in the closet, cashing her Social Security checks cigarette money. Even good American kids are disrespectful of their parents by some standards.

This sounds like one of those bad US Today "trend" headlines like "We're shopping more but hugging less" or "Cats said to be part of families now."

Today's kids have parents that grew up in an era devoted to challenging authority. Since the parents don't respect authority, why would their kids respect parents?

The rest of the comments are just footnotes to this.

American parents don't want to be respected, they want to be loved, and they are terrified of "damaging" their children.

Children who could probably function successfully in the adult world at age 14 or 15 are rebeling against the extended childhood they find themselves in.

I agree with Steven Horwitz and Joel F. Look, I don't have kids, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Many parents just will not control their kids in public spaces, and it makes life unbearable for people around who do not have kids.

What I do have though is dogs. One of the things I bought into about being a dog owner early on is that a harness is the least cruel way to secure a dog to a leash. What a giant mistake. My dogs (both largish Boxer mixes) would pull me all over the place. So I read Cesar Millan's (the Dog Whisperer) latest book and he has a whole chapter in there about how to leash a dog. A harness is great for dogs that don't have a pull instinct, but a standard leather collar is much better for dogs that do. So now my dogs go out walking with harnesses on so I can grab them easier in an emergency and their leashes on their collars. I can even walk both at once. And I realize that it was more cruel to let them pull all over the place and provide them no discipline and leadership than it was to fight with them a couple times over how the collar worked on a walk.

Here's another tip from the dog ownership world. My friend recently hired an animal behaviorist to help get her head around a destructive deaf white Boxer she adopted a couple months ago. Beautiful, lovable dog, but has a destructive streak. So the behaviorist, who is trained in human and animal psychology, made the point that when you issue a command (sign language in this dog's case), you have to be prepared to win. If you're not prepared to win, the dog will not learn the desired behavior. This concept has always made tremendous sense to me when dealing with confrontational people and competitive situations. Know where to start, have a plan to escalate reasonably as needed, and always have the capability to win the battle. Or stay out of it. With most dogs and kids, parents and owners have the physical capability to win. What they lack is the mental fortitude and/or a measured plan. And winning isn't just about disciplining. It's better to win through motivation, so the dog (or human) repeats the desired behavior because they want to rather than because the expect reciprocation (a treat) or they fear punishment (a correction). Perhaps Tyler's next book could be about using economics to train your dog.


My kids are on their third well-stamped passport. They really stand-out in Europe because they are (generally) better behaved and more respectful than their European peers. I have have had European parents compliment me on my children's' behavior.

My children do NOT stand out as unusually respectful amongst their peers here in S. California. Maybe Irvine, CA, is an exceptionally polite place, but I can't think why that would be.

My argument is pure anecdote, but Tyler didn't provide even that much in his post. As result, I claim that most of the "analysis" above is more Rorschach than economic.

Is this a coastal phenomenon? I'm in the midwest and my kids, the neighbor kids, and my Sunday school students all seem respectful to adults. They are all plenty energetic, not robots. I don't see much back talk or rebellion "out there" (library, grocery, zoo, art museum). Must be missing something.

Define respect, please? I think many of these explanations are compelling for different given definitions of the term.

A couple thoughts:

1. Respect would be much more difficult to observe than fear and politeness, and it seems as though fear and politeness are being discussed here more than respect.

2. I think when we say respect what we mean are several different things. The internal power dynamic within the family. The way the child speaks to its parents, and the way it speaks to other adults. The ability of parents to effectively control the behavior of their children when present but especially when they're not around. "Respect" would be one of the explanatory variables here, but it's surely not the only one and isn't necessarily being measured. I think it would be more profitable to find a set of simpler metrics.

3. What are the corporal punishment statistics? My dad certainly had more "respect" for his father than I did for him growing up, but his father made liberal use of the belt whereas mine would just force me to go to my room when I misbehaved. Anecdotal evidence is worthless, but I'd be surprised if less corporal punishment wasn't a trend over time here. I wonder about the numbers in Europe.

I think corporal punishment is a tad overstated sometimes. My parents never hit me and save for a few hiccups during my teenage years, we've always had a great relationship and I have the utmost respect for both of them.

The key with my parents was that they always let us (I have one younger brother and two younger sisters) speak our minds, but there was a tipping point. They always made it clear that they were the parents despite the liberties they gave us. Once we overstepped our bounds my parents would reign us in.

Essentially, my parents philosophy was that you would be treated as an adult so long as you acted like one, but if you wanted to misbehave then you would be treated like a child. (Disclaimer: this is how I remember being treated from about 12 on. I seem to remember my parents running a tighter ship when we were younger.)

Faster (technological, institutional, social) change implies that less of the parents' human and financial capital is of value to children.

In many poorer parts of the world and even in large swaths of Europe which are not relatively poor - e.g. the Mediterranean countries and some former Soviet bloc countries - kids live at home much, much longer.

It's in the child's best interest to remain on good terms with his/her parents as they well know they will be holding court into their late 20s or early 30s.

We are marrying later and having children later. A forty-something chasing a toddler around is the rule now, not the exception it was 20 years ago, and the energy needed to discipline a child just isn't there.

Most baby boomers parents (the Peter Pan generation) I know engage in behaviors that don't differ much from their youth. According to statistics I've seen on Marc Andreessen's blog, boomers engage in risky behaviors (drug use, violent crime, etc.) at higher rates than teens and twenty-somethings. I personally know some parents who get high with their children!!! How can a child respect that parent?

Because so many of them grew up with divorced parents, I know a lot of neurotic boomer parents putting tremedous pressure on themselves to be "better parents" than their own and make sure their children don't grow up as screwed up as they are. They only end up with overly-sheltered whelps, kids who will never hear the word "no" until they are out of the house.

American kids are way better behaved than their British counterparts. Obviously, there will be exceptions, but I have been living in London for a year now, and am SHOCKED at the behavior of children over here. And the bad behavior largely seems to coexist with weak parents who make excuses for their children.

What about the following explanation:

1. There are two kinds of kids : those who obey and those who do not.
2. These two types of kids always have existed.
3. Parents's authority (or lack of) has no impact on changing one's kind of kid into another (cf. Judith Harris)
4. Parents who have obedient kids wrongly attribute it to their authority rather then their luck and blame parents who (unluckily) have disobedient kids for lacking authority.
5. Parents who have more than one kid often encounter 1.
6. Those who claim that kids now are not as obedient as they used to just happens to be (lucky) parents of obedient kids.

or the following alternative one :

People who claims that kids don't respect their parents anymore are old parents who just do not remember how unrespectfull their kids were.

Those young whippersnappers should try working on the farm for once, cut their hippie hair, put on some suspenders for their low hanging pants and stop playing on "the Google" and work harder instead of being on MyFriendFaceSpace [mumble mumble]ElvisBeatlesMTV...

Each generation laments the next one when polled. But most parents secretly harbor thoughts that THEIR child (or grandchild)is an angel. And what's bad or disrespectful is not the same country to country, in private versus in public, to their own parents or to other adults.

There are some good points that are made. Some big ones that I think were left out is that there are just all around too many bad parents out there who should really not have kids. Bad raising causes bad kids who don't respect their parents. Also, there are more and more younger parents who are having kids who are still kids themselves! I'm sorry to say but kids cannot take care of kids! There needs to be more birth control methods being bought and then that will help solve the problem of kids not respecting their parents as much in this day and age.

I have been a teacher since 1970, and kids hadsn't really changed that much.

I think that the parents try and take to much control over their children, therefore, leading to disrespect from their children. Also, if the parents don't respect the child or even talk to them like their mature it may make the child more dis-respectful to their parents.

At it's core, I believe, children are less respectful because parents are more selfish. My parents had a specific goal in mind when they raised me. They wanted me to become a productive and positive member of the larger society someday. They were grooming me to become a good adult! Today a lot of parents are more concerned with having the kid provide them with love and attention than that goal so if they have to choose between punishing a misbehaving child or doing what the child wants to do, they will pick what the child wants to do 9 times out of 10.

It's funny how my parents didn't do 1/10th of the things for me that many do for their kids today but I loved my parents more than a lot of these younger kids do today. You cannot buy love. That is an old and simple truth that parents forget when they try to buy love by giving a ton of toys, driving the kid to the mall 10 times a week and taking all kinds of disrespect without ever punishing the kid.

I agree with many of the posts. At different points in time all or some of these dynamics occur between parents and children. I think at the heart of respect for ones' parents, self, community is discipline and that is something that is taught. Sometimes a generation, community, nation, individual, etc. really hits the mark and through various means manage to teach their children what is expected of them. Sometimes individuals to entire societies just don't get it and you see the lives of their children on this downward spiral. It all boils down to the basics of a very popular quote, "Children learn what they live and live what they learn." And really how much can we expect of children when as adults we really don't teach, reteach and reinforce what is expected of them? We must clarify our values and teach them and remember that it is a process which takes time, patience, encouragement, attentiveness, commitment and must come from a place of love.

Bob, when I was a kid I was never allowed to use the excuse, 'oh I'm being rude because i'm influenced by my elders' or anything like that. That's the difference between now and then, in many families. If I even acted half as bad as many kids do now, I would have ended up with broken limbs. But you see, I never was hurt like that because my folks taught me from a very young age that they weren't to be messed with. Ha.

I'd also like to second someone who talked about children spending most of their time with other children these days. On top of their oppression, children are forced from 6 years old into "institutions" called schools which act essentially like prisons: monitoring their movements, restricting access to their meeting their own needs maturely, and seperating them from the reality of their own families, neighborhoods and cultures. Children are shuffled about from one institution to another(far from the days of the little red community schoolhouse run by KNOWN community members). Children are institutionalized these days from early childhood. Adult hypocracy and beaurcratic methods are extremely apparent within these violent institutions, and children spend most of their waking hours with adults who often don't know them, don't like them, and derive pleasure from ranking them, grading them, punishing them for doing things outside of the "normalize standard of OKness", and criticizing them. Yes. Today's children laugh in the face of adult "authority". The idiocracy of "adult society" has been revealed, and the Wizard behind the curtain is only a fool.

It is clear that many people on here hate children. Remarkably, these people claim to have been properly "disciplined" by their parents with "good" results. Hardly.

Clearly you laid down and had sex when you were not emotionally prepared, and didn't even realize it. Shouldn't your strict upbringing have prevented your irresponsible sexual behavior and emotional immaturity? Apparently not. That you have a "good job" says nothing of the reality of "adults" in this nation-who are generally fat(lack of TRUE discipline), unhappy, unable to maintain a marriage, unable to even put themselves to sleep unmedicated and alone(something their parents likely attempted to force way before their time), and unable to say no to a boss and a society that attempts to work them to their grave with virtually nothing to show for it. This is the result of your childhood "discipline" and your lessons in obeying your authority. Nice.

The reality is that most American children are still spanked and punished-so the idea that today's children are running rampant because today's parent lets them "do whatever they want" is a myth.

Many children(millions) are severely abused emotionally and sexually(by adults, by the way) and we as a society persist in writing article after article about how to CONTROL CHILDREN rather than how to protect them from our sick and oppressive patriarchal society. It is a sick world, and today's adult perpetuates it as such.

Many children are drugged against their will by adults who just want compliance(ie just want someone to FINALLY listen to THEM-as no one did when they were children) and drug makers who just want more money.

Clover777: "The reality is that most American children are still spanked and punished-so the idea that today's children are running rampant because today's parent lets them "do whatever they want" is a myth."

No, clover. Some of the worst kids I know were raised by parents who DO NOT use any physical discipline. I know this first hand. But if you talk to the parents of these kids they can make 1,000 excuses for why their kid is a 'good kid'. They will say, 'yes, Tommy punched me in the face, knocked me to the ground and kicked me until i cried but really he's a good kid. don't say he isn't!' They are out of touch with reality. If you ask them why they don't punish their kids they will say they are afraid they will be punished by the police/society if they do but that's just another excuse because they are incapable of saying NO to their kids in any context and meaning it. If the kid wants something they cave in, that has nothing to do with the use of physical foce as it does a lack of will. The lack of any use of force is a symptom of not having the will.

I don't know all the answers, but I d*** sure know that kids who are physically disciplined properly *do not* get to take advantage of their parents and disrespect them because those parents would simply show the kid the door and let them go live with someone else if it's a choice between being the child's slave or disowning the kid.

Hhmm. My son respects me. I am a single mother and he is my only son. I divorced his father when he was 7. He's a great kid and treats me with respect, love and kindness. (Hint: It's how I have always treated him, as well...hhmm)

He is not rude or disrespectful to anyone, other kids or other adults.

No one in my family (my extended family, nieces, cousins, siblings, etc) acts rude or treats their parents like crap.

One gets what they give.

I would never tolerate ANYONE being rude or mean to me anyway.

So, ALL American kids are NOT little jerks. But I know they are out there, I see/hear them. Their parents are just as bad too. The way they (certain jerky parents) speak to their kids in public is horrible. Adult jerks raise kid jerks.

Not hard to figure that one out, huh.

All i got to say is that america has alot of questions,,,but no solutions.
All children born after 1970 are state own, parents dont own them, they only gave them life.
The one parent rule is what ruin the way you raise children, they need both parents.

i definitely agree with whoever spoke that quote ""In America it depends on how parents behave and whether particular parents deserve to be treated with respect. Parents don't get respect automatically just because they are parents."

for me, its seems dumb that parents automatically get respect whether or not they've done anything to earn it. the notion that all or most American children and especially teens are disrespectful to their parents is, to me, a load of bull crap. i mean, i understand if you've witnessed a little american kid being rude to their parents and think "oh, that kid needs to be taught a lesson" but its not all of us and its totally dumb that american teens get such a bad rep these days.

if its all american teens that have such bad reps then maybe its not THEM but how they were bought up. maybe the problem lies in their surroundings. have you ever thought that maybe its the parents fault?

my parents come home from work everyday and take their anger out at me for petty trivial things like not turning on my phone the moment i get out of school or not doing their laundry. they tell me that i never talk to them about how i feel but when i do tell that it makes me really angry when they yell at me for no reason, they start yelling at me for being so disrespectful!

as an american teen (16 years old btw), i get s o frustrated when someone talks about how bad teens from american are. teens from other countries grow up differently! its not our fault that some parents just don't know that respect goes both ways or have time for thier kids anymore or even care about their children anymore...

sorry for going on a rant...

I meant to make it clear that parents, not the children, can get into serious trouble with the department of social welfare if children want to report them for being disciplined. Kids know that all they have to do to make parents knuckle under to their demands is to threaten to report to the authorities, even if the report is totally false, that they (the kids) are being abused and the potential cost to their parents will scare them into compliance with their demands. Children everywhere are aware of the power this gives them over their parents. This is one of the main reasons that politicians who favor a one world government (and it's most of them now) seek young people to support them. The kids have been trained from the cradle to think in favor of that goal so that it will come about by popular demand. The old generation of their parents will pass away and the one worlders will be in unrestrained control. America, as it was once known, will have been destroyed without firing a shot. What will take place is a world controled by a handful of very rich and powerful people that will dictate the rules in their favor, reduce the world's human population to a "sustainable" level to balance the use of natural resources so that they'll never run out, and enforce an old/new religion, called Gaia, that will serve to keep the population in willing and worshipful servatude to the masters.

Is there really something to respect these days? Why are we blaming kids? I don't see anything to respect. The only thing i respect is people's lives. That does not mean something to me. What this world lacks and we cannot do anything about....since the only thing we can control is our life and behaviour. Is love. This is what we lack. I don't see many parents these days really loving their kids. Kids don't need discipline. They need love. Why? simply because people who truely love....even the most spoilt ones...don't hurt others. Don't look for faults in the spoilt brats as this freakin society is calling them without taking into account how miserable they must be feeling. We need to look for these faults in us. We need to ask ourselves. "how am I teaching my kid to respect me? how many reasons am i giving my son to respect me and others? are these reasons logical? Most importantly "why do I need my kid to respect me?" "Can't I live my life without my kid's respect? What Am I doing about this respect thing? Am I showing the same respect to them....or do I spank them (calling it discipline) when I feel they do not respect me? How dare I demand respect when I don't show respect to them. How dare I demand respect if every time I don't get the respect I spank my kids? What about the love thing? Am I giving my kids the same unconditional love that I want to myself....Or am I being a hypocrite unaware.

I guess what I want to say is....we need to give to our kids....exactly the same or even more of the amount of anything that we want for ourselves from them. Or we are not worthy of our kids.

Again. It's not kids fault they don't respect us. It's our fault that we are not giving enough reasons to be respected for....and enough love for our kids to feel safe around us.

To finish my story. Only the truely good parents are getting respect. And that is because they are the ones that demand it the least. Cause lets be honest. We all respect people (parents or not parents), who show us that they can live happily even without our respect. While those who are wasting their time demanding our respect are actually making us feel bored....Simply because by wasting their time demanding in any way they can anything from us, they show us that they don't have that respect for themselves...If they had it. They wouldn't demand it. They would give us lots more reasons to respect them....simply by living their life according to what they preach.

How many of us do that my friends. How many of us are actually teaching by example....without demanding anyone to even pay attention to that example?

Share with me your thoughts? Just be polite.

Thank you.

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