The group of boys convulsed with laughter. I smiled, thinking they were merely having a good time. Then I saw what they saw.
A little elderly lady was crossing the street, hauling bags that probably carried all her possessions. As my mind raced, trying to determine what to say, I saw one boy step up.
“Guys, c’mon,” he said. “It looks like she’s homeless. And probably hungry. That’s funny?”
The laughter died down and I heard, “Yeah, I guess not,” and “Yeah, not cool.”
One boy took one small stand for respect. He had seen respect in action; he knew what is was, and he valued it.
How can we teach our boys to “see something, say something,” in terms of respect?
It starts long before most of us imagine. In fact, there are three aspects of respect to consider: respect for others, respect for self, and respect for authority. All three aspects of respect are related to our boys’ understanding of who they really are.
To respect others, our sons need to understand life is not all about them.
To respect themselves, our boys must know their own value—in our eyes and in their Creator’s.
To respect authority, our sons need to surrender to God’s love-driven authority.
How do we teach them these three facets of respect, in hopes that they’ll show respect for the women in their lives?
Respect for others begins at home, extending to school and the playground. We can:
- Show our sons what respect looks like as we deal with them, with our husbands, with that cranky clerk or obnoxious driver.
- Insist that they respect one another, squelching name-calling and belitting comments.
- Encourage relationships with those who are different – families of girls, elderly neighbors, friends from a different place or stage in life – giving them the opportunity to exercise respect in the face of those who are different.
Respect for themselves begins as they learn to take care of themselves. We can:
- Teach them the value of eating well and getting enough sleep, showing them that they have intrinsic worth.
- Encourage them, as they grow to value their peers, to avoid things that could be harmful to them, reminding that their bodies as vessels for God’s use. This underscores respect for God, their Maker, and for their own self-worth.
Respect for authority grows from a surrender to our Creator, so we must remember that our boys are a work in progress. How many of us are totally surrendered to God every moment of every day? There are several things we can do, though:
- Remind them that God’s boundaries are there because He loves us.
- Live as pictures of His love, not as joyless rule-keepers.
- Help them to understand the guidelines and precepts in God’s Word.
We moms are far from perfect, but the best way to foster respect is to model it. If our boys see it, they’re more likely to value it. Here are some keys to modeling respect:
- Listen. Not on the fly, but stop. Don’t multitask; make eye contact. React. Nod. Show you respect your son by really listening.
- Be positive. Respect your son by not belittling in the face of defeat; instead, build up.
- Be honest. Respect your son by not building false hope. Be realistic about the situation. Tell the truth in love.
- Give them the opportunity to make choices. Nothing says, “I believe in you; you’re worthy of respect” more than letting your son make a choice. Be wise, of course. But don’t get into the pattern of dictating everything.
- Give your boys some responsibility. Responsibility says, “I know you can handle this. I don’t have to do it for you.” Your son knows you respect him when you can step away and take hands off at times.
Boys who see respect — for the least and for the greatest — will value that quality. And with a foundational respect that extends from them to others to God, they will naturally value the women in their lives, leading to healthy dating and marriage relationships.
Add an understanding of who they are and Whose they are to some great examples of respect and you’ll set the stage for respect in your son’s life.
Looking for more resources to help teach and model respect?
Growing Respect – a post that gives you a few more ideas.
You Are Mine by Max Lucado – a book that reminds boys Whose they are and what to value.
Honor and Respect – how we can honor others every day.
Dr. Meg Meeker – posts from the author/pediatrician/boy mom on respect.
Laura Lee Groves is the mother of four sons and the author of I’m Outnumbered! One Mom’s Lessons in the Lively Art of Raising Boys, in addition to Pearl, a novel about international adoption.