Insights on Respect from a 13 Year Old Boy

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

My 13 year old son often tries to start “deep” discussions in order to get out of doing the dishes or going to bed, so when I asked him to do the dishes and he said “I wanted to talk to you about something.” I didn’t necessarily expect to have one of our most awesome discussions ever.

It started out with him telling me that he noticed that many of the kids in his junior high have started hanging out in “different” kinds of groups. Which was his way of telling me that they’ve started having groups of pairs instead of mostly “guy groups” and “girl groups.” So I asked him, “What have you noticed about these different groups?”

“I’ve noticed that the boys at school that are not respectful to girls are mostly the ones that have girlfriends.”

I was thinking “Oh Crap!” and mentally scrambling for how to deal with the 13 year old version of “Women only like jerks!” To buy me time, I asked him what he thought respect was. His answer blew me away.

“Respect is following a not-talked-about group of agreements. But that’s not all. It also means not holding someone back and not being passive aggressive.”

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard a better explanation of respect anywhere. By this time I was totally paying attention and asked him to repeat that so I could start taking notes. Then I asked him what he would do or not do if he was being respectful.

“Not touch in any unpolite manner and certainly not being passive aggressive or holding someone back or down or not giving them any choice what to do. Bullying is very disrespectful, you’re trying to put them lower, you don’t actually get higher, you’re still in the same place and they are lower, instead of really talking to people and getting yourself higher.”

So I asked him if it was different how people disrespected a boy from how they disrespected a girl.

“With boys it’s more physical. With girls, they more treat them like innocent breakable glass, like they can’t take care of themselves. The problem is people don’t even notice. People just keep doing it until everyone does it and the person may not even know they are being disrespected.”

He had mentioned being passive aggressive more than once so I asked, what does that mean to you?

“Passive aggressive is anything that’s like acting like a sad dog “oh you don’t like it?” (this was said with a sarcastic exaggerated sad face and voice) Acting like they are mad just to get you to do things. Any type of feeling, acting like it’s extreme just to get them to do what you want them to do. I noticed it’s usually disrespectful guy to the girls, sometimes to each other. It’s really weird, sometimes they even try to make someone want to be closer to them by guilting them!”

I told him how insightful I thought this all was and asked him what else he thought of respect.

“Also I think people mistake being polite for being respectful. That’s just a very shallow bit. You can even seem like you are being a jerk and be being very respectful, like if you’re being honest. There are I think like three degrees of respect. Degree 1 is polite, 2nd degree verbal. Deep respect would be level 3: not doing things that make the other person uncomfortable, either sexual or not sexual. I notice at the beginning of school they only talk about the sexual part but that’s not the only part.”

I asked him what else he noticed about respect.

“I notice the guys do things for the girl she doesn’t always need or want and then expect her to do things for them and get mad when she doesn’t. I also notice these messages they tell guys that aren’t true, like you have to have a girlfriend! and all of the things they tell girls of course like you need to wear short shorts for a guy to like you. All this stuff based on fake love and it clouds many minds. They act like it’s a game. Then sometimes the fake love turns to fake hate! I realize this is just a door; I don’t have to go in there and play that game with those people.”

At this point I’m completely humbled. I started this discussion with the mindset of the grown up who was going to make use of a teaching moment. I ended it with a solid reminder to never underestimate people or what they might have to tell you, even when you are in the “teacher” role.

I was feeling that floaty awesome feeling you get in those moments when you feel like you are doing something right as a parent. Then he moved on to the next subject…a twerking incident at school. Then when I told him this was really his blog and maybe he should think of a pseudonym. His ideas included Ninja and Jedi but he felt strongly putting them together would be best. Then there was a story of his Ninjaness at school in an attempt to distract me from making him go to bed. I guess he’s back to being your average 13 year old boy.

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