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How to teach a teen to have respect for others

Your teen is developing skills that will serve them well in the real world, but how do you teach concepts as big and significant as “respect”? Teaching teens to respect others is more than just blind obedience; it’s an exercise in discerning character and building genuine kindness.

Here are a few simple ways you can teach your teen to respect others and help prepare them to maneuver in the real world in productive ways.

Father and son having a discussion
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Show respect to teach respect

The single biggest thing you can do for your teen is to show the same respect you want them to give. Consider how you speak to your teen and if your words mirror the type of behavior you expect from your teen.

This could include modeling active listening skills, withholding interruptions and distractions to listen truly to what your teen is saying. Ensure that you show disagreement calmly and agree that sometimes people can disagree on issues without causing harm.

You should also practice apologizing for things that cause harm, yourself. For example, everyone gets angry, and we can’t always remain calm. Apologizing for losing your temper shows your teen that you take responsibility for your actions and models how they should behave in the future.

Expose your teens to new experiences

One of the best ways to help your teen learn the empathy they need to help them show respect is by volunteering. Get your teens involved in age-appropriate missions that benefit the community and show your neighbors, community members, and greater society that you care.

Ideally, these activities start as young as possible, but if your teen has never volunteered before, that’s OK. Just get them started with something they might be interested in. Loving the great outdoors? Schedule cleanup efforts. Want to be more involved in the school? Volunteer for school beautifications or collect school supplies — and get them involved.

You should also help introduce your teen to wide ranges of age-appropriate literature, with protagonists of different cultures, histories, and lifestyles. This helps your teen expand their capacity to understand others and could help translate into greater empathy and respect.

Focus on problem-solving

Children and teens aren’t always able to show respect because they don’t have the same experiences that we do. They could be focused on several activities at once and unable to listen to what we’re saying. They may not understand our point of view and miss how their words come across to us.

The first step is to remain calm and give your teen the benefit of the doubt. Were there reasons that they seemed disrespectful? Are they stressed from school or tired from a late night of studying? These factors can sometimes mean a misfire in communication.

Help your teen understand respect by remaining calm and working with them to problem-solve through the issue. Instead of saying, “Watch your tone,” which is vague, ask them to consider how to make their request differently.

Through this problem-solving process, your teen learns to listen to what others are saying and view something from multiple angles. They can use these problem-solving skills all their lives to negotiate with others and remain respectful even when making requests.

Use discipline to teach — not to punish

Discipline is designed to help teach your children real-life skills. Discipline your teen so that they will be guided to make better choices in the future. For example, if your teen uses a disrespectful tone, you may remove their devices for a set period of time. However, this should also accompany time to problem-solve and methods to help them make better decisions in the future.

It can be tough to make decisions about discipline in the heat of the moment. It’s best to take a moment to calm down and think it through. Once everyone is calmer and able to communicate, you can decide on a discipline route and talk through making better decisions.

Teens can learn to respect others

The teen years can be a trying time, but you can teach your teen what respect means. Model the behavior you want to see and avoid making decisions when you’re angry. Be willing to talk through your teen’s actions and help them problem-solve to make better decisions in the future.

Giving your teens the gift of experience can also help you teach respect. As they build their empathy skills, they’ll be more inclined to show respect to others. Take the long view, and you’ll be able to help your teen prepare for the future.

Mother and daughter having a discussion
Martin Novak/Getty Images

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