A few days ago I had the opportunity to help a friend and his teen son as they faced their first trip to see the Judge and Probation Officers of Johnson County. While I will refrain from discussing their particular case, I feel compelled to share some of what I saw and heard as I sat there for the afternoon. There were probably 25 teens in that court with us that day. All of the teens illustrated a common reason why our children seem to be in more trouble today. Their example also showed how we can help them the most and turn the tide on the rising tide of problems faced by our children.
As I sat and listened to the conversations between the various teens around me there was a common theme. Each of them believed, in some cases very deeply, that their situation was not “their fault”. Each of them voiced opinions that it was the school’s fault, their parent’s fault, the officer’s fault, or a host of other “scapegoats”. Not one of them would even consider that they held responsibility for their current condition. Personal responsibility held little meaning for these kids. I began to wonder where this lack of personal responsibility had come from in these kids. As I listened further I found one answer, one that was common among many of the teens present, their parents. Some of conversations between child and parent also illustrated a lack of personal responsibility, both in the parent and in the guidance of child.
Where have we missed in our duty to guide our children? Self-Respect.
These teens were “cocky”, self-righteous, and behaved as if they were the “biggest dog in the pound”, but not one of them behaved with even a shred of Self-Respect. The conversations and behaviors of the collected teens illustrated that even in this moment of need they were only interested in comparing themselves with peers. They were busy strutting and bragging, showing off and comparing themselves in an effort to build Self-Esteem.
“Our culture is concerned with matters of self-esteem. Self-respect, on the other hand, may hold the key to achieving the peace of mind we seek. The two concepts seem very similar but the differences between them are crucial.
To esteem anything is to evaluate it positively and hold it in high regard, but evaluation gets us into trouble because while we sometimes win, we also sometimes lose. To respect something, on the other hand, is to accept it.” – Ellen J. Langer, Ph.D. professor of psychology at Harvard University
Their actions and words showed they were unable to accept themselves, the key to self-respect. Instead they were looking for validation and worth through comparison. They were in a contest, right there in the courtroom, trying to build their “worth” and earn “respect” from their peers. The teens present that day illustrated a problem common to kids today. They confuse Self-Respect with Respect from Others and Self-Esteem. They believe that they cannot respect and be themselves without the approval of peers. They mistakenly believe that the only way to be worth anything in life is to be more outrageous than their peers.
Now, you may be asking how Self-Respect would change the scene I described at the beginning of the article. When we teach our children how to value themselves and that the Respect of others starts with Self-Respect they will be able to take responsibility for their own actions and words. Self-Respect leads a person to take personal responsibility instead of looking for “scapegoats” and “reasons” why their situation is “unfair”. A person who has Self-Respect is less likely to seek Self-Esteem and fall into the dangerous habit of comparison and the need to “win” those comparisons. Kids will be kids and find ways to get into trouble. When these teens start to take personal responsibility instead of seeking the approval of their peers they will be less likely to get into trouble big enough to get the attention of Law Enforcement. The key lies in the fact that the trouble will not be as serous; they will not escalate inappropriate actions in search of approval of peers.
Can we turn this trend around? Yes.
The Probation Officer I met that day made a comment that made me stop and consider the size of the problem. He simply said “Tuesdays are always super busy days around here.” This means that every Tuesday he is seeing a large group of new teens in court. He is not alone in the office, there were at least three other Officers there that day. You may ask how we can possibly turn this trend, the numbers seem too large, the problem too deep. The answer is simple, but it won’t be easy. These kids need guidance and mentoring. If they are not learning to respect themselves at home then it must come from their schools. As adults and leaders in our community we must invest time and effort into our children. We have the power to help them find their value and develop real Self-Respect. Martial arts training and mentoring on the skills of leadership can help our children develop the Self-Respect they need to succeed in life.