When it comes to respect and children, I hold what is sometimes an unpopular opinion: I don’t think children should have to default “respect” every adult they meeting, just because that person is an adult. When it comes to expressing gratitude and respect, I believe both of these are responses that are earned due to someone’s behavior, not simply because that person exists and is older than someone else.
I don’t mean that children should run wild and be rude to everyone they meet — I don’t think any of us should be rude just because we want to, or maybe even ever. But as someone who was born and raised in the southern United States, where we’re told to respect our elders from birth, I’ve always felt squeamish about the idea that children are thought of as inherently inferior to adults.
Sure, children generally need the guidance of adults who love and care for them. And if those adults genuinely do love and care for the children in question, then respect is sure to follow. Unfortunately, adults don’t always love and respect the children they care for, and for a lot of adults, the word “respect” actually seems to be a code for “fear.”