Where Did They Learn That?

The 10 year old boy was ignoring his mother and the doctor until he suddenly said, “Shut up mom; you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then the child laughed. Mom was trying to describe the boy’s stomach ailment to the doctor. The boy was busy playing on a mobile device while his condition was being discussed.

Dr. Leonard Sax addresses this new peril in our society in his fourth book, The Collapse of Parenting. In an interview with the Associated Press, Sax described the conversation in his office that day lamenting that the mother said nothing. She just looked a little embarrassed. Sax explains that this behavior in our children is new; it wouldn’t have occurred in 1990 or in the year 2000. This verbal disrespect toward parents, teachers and one another has become the new normal in children today.

One of the perils of children playing in the neighborhood or going to school is the introduction of new words and ideas. Children come home with words we don’t use at our house and deposit them like a cat with a freshly killed bird. Unfortunately, parents cannot always blame the neighbor kids for all the words that escape the lips of their little darlings.


One of the primary sources for disrespect has to be the parents themselves. We see it all the time. An adult is calmly speaking to a store clerk when they suddenly get red faced and slap at a child or stare them down eye to eye saying, “I SAID STOP IT AND I MEANT RIGHT NOW!” Sometimes the calm conversation resumes like the unexplainable fit of rage didn’t really happen.

Let’s face it. We talk to our children like vicious dogs sometimes. We use phrases we would never say to an adult. We threaten to do things that we shouldn’t do. When we don’t follow through on our threats, our word turns to rubbish. We call our children names that we would never tolerate hearing from their classroom. If teachers talked to children the way some parents do, they wouldn’t have a job.


Our children learn most of their words from us. We told them they were stupid. We said they should just shut up. We were the one who let the four-letter word slip when we dropped the vase and broke it. We can’t always blame the neighbors; we modeled the behaviors and used the words that we had hoped our children would never learn. 

It goes beyond that. When we show disrespect for their teachers and their principal at home or especially in their presence, we teach our children that disrespectful behavior is acceptable. Even when we mutter useless things in frustration while reading their report card, we are teaching a child to blame someone else.


As the primary model for the words and behaviors of our children, we need to take a look at the words we use. We need to consider how we treat our children. We don’t get a pass just because we are the parents.


Try hard to say nothing that you wouldn’t want to hear your child use on you in front of the doctor someday.

Dr. Matt Crain writes for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.