Focus on the Family by Jim Daly

Teaching Kids the Difference Between Permission and Respect

Q: My teenage son keeps telling me that I don't "respect" him as I should. I'll admit that we often butt heads, but I honestly don't believe that I've ever done anything to denigrate him as a person. What does it mean for a parent to "respect" a child? I can't just let him have his own way all the time, can I?

Jim: I understand. We have two teenagers in my house. Many teens make the mistake of equating respect with permission. They say, "If you respect me, you'll let me." But respect and permission are two very different things. You're the parent, and your child needs to respect your authority and abide by your rules as long as he remains under your roof.

Respect is best defined as the act of giving a person the particular attention or special regard he deserves. It's demonstrating that you consider him worthy of high esteem -- even when he's not reflecting it back to you. That can be hard. But here are some helpful hints:

-- Listen completely before drawing conclusions or making decisions. Take as much time as this requires. Note: "Listening" doesn't mean "agreeing."

-- Trust is earned. Give your son as much freedom as he has shown he can handle. No more, no less. This can be a tough balancing act.

-- Be consistent in your words, deeds, decisions, rules and choices. It's hard for a teen to respect anyone who is inconsistent or hypocritical.

-- Establish rules that are logical, fair, reasonable and truthful. Resist the temptation to make rules for your own convenience, or to satisfy a need for control.

-- Admit when he's right and you're wrong. Honesty is the backbone of mutual respect.

-- Never belittle or intentionally embarrass him -- publicly or privately. No name-calling, even if you're angry. Careless words hurt.

-- Distinguish between behavior and character. It's one thing to point out wrong actions, but be careful not to attack your child's character in the process.

By doing these things consistently, you'll show him respect -- even though you won't always "give in" to his requests. This balance of justice, guidance and respect will be a valuable example of how he should extend respect to you (and others) even when you don't see eye to eye.

Q: My husband and I are trying to do regular date nights, but it seems like we always end up talking (even arguing) about problems at home instead of having fun and enjoying each other's company. How can we keep our dates on track?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Many of us struggle with this, including my wife and me. It can be hard to carve out time for a date. So, once we're together, issues that are top of mind tend to come up. Before you know it, what could have been an evening of fun and connection becomes an argument. By the end of the date, instead of emotionally connecting, husband and wife have drifted apart.

It's important to avoid the temptation to "administrate" your marriage, rather than to enjoy one another's company. Every marriage has real issues that need to be addressed from time to time. Maybe it's discipline problems with kids, financial challenges or communication struggles. There's a time and place to confront those challenges, but not on date nights. Keep your dates fun, exciting and conflict-free.

The best way to do this is proactively plan your date night activities. Have specific things in mind to do, and keep to the script. You might even think back "pre-marriage" to when you were first dating, and revisit some of your favorite conversations and memories. For more ideas and resources, see

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at


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