Respect should be mutual between teens and parents

Both parents and teens need to respect each other and make the effort to understand each other’s point of view. — PP

Your teenage son has started coming home late from school. When you ask why, he snaps: “It’s none of your business. I can take care of myself!” Is he becoming less respectful?

He argues that you do not respect his privacy, saying he deserves more independence and respect from you. But as his parents, you feel that you have the right to know what he is doing and where he is going.

This situation can lead to a clash of interest between you and your son. In this case, mutual respect is important. So, what is respect?

Respect simply means acknowledging a person’s abilities and inner qualities. To respect someone is to have a high regard or admiration for that person’s views and feelings.

Your teen wants to be acknowledged as an equal individual, but he also needs to respect your authority as his parent. Both parties have to realise that respect is a two-way street and needs to be earned.

Earning respect

Mutual respect can be achieved when parents and teens make the effort to understand each other’s point of view. It should start with you as the parent, as a way of teaching respect to your teen.

The following are some ways to gain respect from your teen, while at the same time, treating him respectfully.

• Empathy and compassion

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, while compassion is the desire to alleviate the other’s suffering. Both are important precursors to respect.

Try to empathise and be compassionate to your teen by remembering your own experience as a teenager. Put yourself in his shoes to see his point of view. Make an effort to understand his situation, perspective and emotions.

• Lend your ear

Listen to all he has to say before making any decisions or conclusions. Let him justify his choices and actions. Realise that listening does not mean agreeing; it is a way to show your respect for him. You may or may not agree with his explanation, but always listen first.

• Give him your trust

Trust him when he has proven himself trustworthy. Give him some freedom and let him make his own decisions if he has shown that he is responsible. For example, when letting him go out with his friends to the mall, set a rule for him to return before dusk.

If he does as instructed, you can trust him when he asks to go out again.

• Walk the talk

Be consistent with your words, actions, rules and decisions. Do not contradict what you have told him. Someone who is inconsistent or hypocritical will be regarded as less credible, and thus, less worthy of respect. A classic case is when a father scolds his teenage son for smoking when he is a smoker himself.

• Reasonable rules

Your teen is still bound to your authority and has to follow your rules as long as he is living under your roof. However, ensure that the rules are fair, logical and suitable for him as a teenager.

Negotiate with him and listen to his feedback. Do not treat him like a small child. Avoid making rules for your own convenience or to impose unnecessary control on him.

 Be honest 

Admit your mistake and acknowledge when he is right. Being honest and open with him shows that you respect him as a person. This will also encourage him to be honest with you and nurture mutual respect.

• Never embarrass him

Do not belittle or humiliate him, either in private or public, despite how strongly you might feel about the mistake he has committed. Avoid name-calling even when you are fuming with anger.

Be careful not to say or do things that you might think as acceptable, but can be viewed as embarrassing by your teen. Parents’ words can have a deep impact on their child’s psyche.

• Behaviour versus character

Distinguish his character or identity from his behaviour. When reprimanding him, be sure to direct it to his bad behaviour or action, instead of his character. Attacking his character can make him lose respect for you.

Building a healthy relationship

Parental communication methods should evolve as children grow. Teenagers do not want to be treated as a small child; they want to be independent and seen as a young adult.

Nevertheless, parents are still mandated to be responsible for their teens. Both parents and teens have to understand their respective roles in order to develop mutual respect, as it is an important element of a healthy family relationship.

Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj is a consultant psychiatrist and president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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