Home Editorials Overstepping boundaries

Overstepping boundaries

by William T. Robinson, Jr
William T. Robinson, Jr.

We are living in a new time and era where selfish actions and vindictive outbursts seem to take precedence over what was once morally unacceptable. I’m referring to an age divide, where older adults were taught to be respectful of the feelings of their elders. That’s not what we are seeing practiced among the youth of today. I am basically referring to my experience reared as an African American. It was once unthinkable for a child to talk back or even challenge the directives of their parents or other adults. It was not important whether you agreed with the actions of these adults. It was about staying in your lane as a child and showing deference.

I don’t think you will find many older African Americans who considered being verbally defiant who didn’t hear the infamous words from their parents (especially their mothers): “I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out.” Talking back to your parents, even under your breath, wasn’t acceptable or tolerated. This practice of not talking back was even extended to older relatives and adults in the community. So I can imagine a lot of older adults as children growing up getting their feelings hurt and concluding they didn’t have a voice. But in retrospect, most of these children grew up to be fine, respectable adults revering the thoughts and feelings of their elders. In other words, these children got over hurt feelings, not always being heard, and realizing they were not on the same level as their parents or elders.

Now we live in a society of super-sensitive children where we are led to believe that we must cater to or respond to their every emotion or concern lest we produce maladaptive adults. The truth of the matter is that we have produced a lot of self-absorbed, sociopathic young adults, apathetic to the feelings of others—especially the parents who raised them, giving them everything they wanted. We should not be surprised that when we give our children everything (without reinforcing them to be humble, grateful, appreciative, and thankful) that they may feel overly privileged and entitled—often growing up unappreciative of what comes to them so easily.

In fact, the first time spoiled children don’t get what they want, it is not unusual to see a disrespectful tirade occur. The young adult feels betrayed and retaliates with acts of rebellion. Parents raising their children as if they were adults (avoiding conventional wisdom stating that a child has his/her place) should be cautioned.

Children may have some crucial and legitimate concerns that need to be voiced, but they should be taught to do so respectfully. They should honor their parents’ role as caring adults who know what is best. Parents should never forget that they are adults. Never allow your child to manipulate you or disrespect you, claiming to be your equal. Even as a young adult, there should be a level of respectful communication—even with parents who may have caused harm and whose actions may be inexcusable or indefensible.

Parents should be approached by children privately, without voicing displeasure in public. Hurt feelings should not be laundered in public in order to embarrass, demonize or vilify a parent. Too many times our emotions get the best of us and we say and do things we later regret. But remember that once something is said, you can’t take it back. Apologizing profusely often can’t erase the hurt.

Today we see lots of personal drama on social media among high-profile families where the children berate their parents for shortcomings. Many times the children appear to be undeniably hurt. But they launder their dissatisfaction in public, believing this approach is therapeutic or the only way to be taken seriously. Some of the concerns of emotional abuse felt by young adults may be legitimate, but sometimes it is more about entitlement and privilege. But you can’t argue that when a child grows up thinking he\she is equal to or on the same level as a parent that these problems occur.

Make no mistake: there are children crying out in pain and hurt. They need to be heard. But one needs to be cognizant that hurt feelings from a manipulative, selfish, disrespectful child who did not get what they wanted are not warranted. We can and should hear what our children are saying, but it should be in a respectful manner. While some experts claim children’s rights are equal to adults, it is all a matter of opinion. Parents should raise their children, instead of allowing themselves to be disrespected while trying to be the child’s friend.

Some parents or elders may warrant being called out or accosted by their children because of their abusive destructive behavior. However, discretion and tact should be used—preferably, the parent or elder should be approached privately. Deference and respect should be exercised. However, we must be mindful that we don’t live in a perfect world. Sometimes this approach is not always possible.  

Today’s children seem to think it is all about ‘self.’ It is somehow acceptable to be verbally disrespectful of parents and elders. Voicing concerns about disagreements is understandable, but children should use caution. Older children should respect their parents and elders when conveying their feelings, even when honestly trying to put them in their place. Things may change because of the times, but deference and respect shouldn’t be debatable. Some boundaries are to be respected regardless of the times.    

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