A friend of mine was telling me recently how during a tennis lesson, she and her coach asked some especially noisy children on the adjacent court to quieten down. Tennis etiquette involves not being too loud but my friend and the coach recognised that the boys might not have known this and so their initial request was particularly polite and calm.
A second request was ignored and a third, a little later, was met with a volley (sorry for the tennis pun) of disrespect. These weren't even angry teens (not that that would be an excuse) but a handful of seven to nine-year-olds. They were unaccompanied on court but this wasn't unusual within the club grounds. The boys' reaction was along the lines of 'who are you to tell us what to do?' and 'what are you going to do if we don't?'.
The friend and I both remarked that when we were younger, we wouldn't have dared talk to adults with the brazenness these boys had. Children, we recalled, were expected to respect grown-ups, regardless of whether they were a teacher, someone else's mum or a sports coach.
But it made us wonder, was our (mostly) compliant behaviour to adults really driven by respect or was it actually about fear?
At school in the 80s, my class' level of deference to teachers largely correlated with what we felt we could get away with. Whilst one ancient 'old school' teacher ruled with an iron fist and was renowned for chucking the blackboard rubber and bellowing alarmingly at anyone who disrupted his lessons, another, a rather anxious, quietly spoken young geography teacher, garnered bottom marks for ability to take control.
We only spoke when allowed to in Mr. Blackboard Rubber Thrower's classroom but with Mr. Feeble, lessons would often descend into chaos (which would stop instantly if a different, stricter member of staff heard the mini-riot going on in the next classroom and intervened). You knew you could get away with things in geography that you couldn't with other teachers: Mr Feeble had no sanctions to use against us, or at least an inability to use them. We might not have consciously asked it, but the 'what's he going to do about it anyway?' question was at play. The answer was nothing, so we misbehaved to our hearts' content.
And perhaps this highlights what's changed over the years. More children are more often in situations like we were with Mr Feeble with little or no fear of consequences.
We can (and we should) instill strong values, good manners and yes, the idea of respecting others (children too but maybe no one automatically). We can also reward the positive until we're as blue in the face as my old geography teacher was red from being flustered with my classmates. For lots of children this is all highly effective, but we sometimes need sanctions to motivate decent behaviour too. They might have to be different and wiser ones than having a blackboard rubber chucked at you or a slap from mum and dad but, even if children haven't explicitly asked it, we need to have a response in mind to that question the tennis court boys asked: 'what are you going to do about it if I don't?'
The New Old-fashioned Parent - what kind of parent are you?
Old Old-fashioned Parents said 'do what you're told and respect your elders or you'll get a smack!' No backchat was allowed. Ever.
New Old-fashioned Parents have a balance - if children do something wrong they have consistent, firm and sensible consequences that they follow through with but they also try and help them learn what they could do differently next time and understand what might be behind the behaviour in the first place.
Modern Flakies have to respect their kids or they'll get a thrashing from them.
Liat Hughes Joshi's book, based on these columns, New Old-fashioned Parenting is published by Summersdale/ Vie.
Do you think children should respect adults? Did you always respect your elders as a child and was this right?
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