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Why So Many American Children Respect Nothing

4 ¼ min

For the last 20 years or so, there has been one regular item on my Christmas list. That item is the annual anthology of old-fashioned Christmas stories entitled Christmas in My Heart. The series has been running for over a quarter of a century now, and even if I don’t ask for the latest edition, my family fulfills the unspoken wish, instinctively knowing that Christmas wouldn’t quite be Christmas without it.  

While reading this year’s edition, I came across a short story composed by Noel Shanko, a writer from Florida, who recounted the Christmas when he was 13.

Shanko’s family had moved to a government housing project during World War II, and although his father had a steady job, luxuries were out of the question. The family’s belongings were a hodgepodge, likely cobbled together from secondhand stores and other items that had been discarded.

It was because of this motley assemblage that Shanko was attracted to a beautiful silverware set in a local store window. Although the silver cost $100 – about $1,000 today – he determined to buy it for his mother for Christmas.

For a boy who only had a dollar to his name, that was a steep task. Undaunted, Shanko began paying for his layaway item by picking up as many jobs as he could find. He started a paper route. He canvassed for new subscribers, earning 50 cents for each one he recruited. He planted a tomato garden with his father and sold the produce for 10 cents a pound. He earned another 10 cents for every lawn he mowed and every bushel of kindling he sold.

These nickels, dimes, and quarters accumulated over the year.  Finally, a few weeks before Christmas, he purchased the set and brought home the precious package. And then Christmas finally came.

“On Christmas morning, I was up early. It was my job to hand out the presents, and naturally I saved ‘my’ silverware for last. Then the time came – I pulled out that chest from under the tree and said, ‘Mamma, this is for you.’ I watched as she unwrapped that gift and lifted the lid. The only words that I can use to describe Mother’s face are amazement, disbelief, and parental pride. Tears ran down her cheeks as she hugged and kissed me again and again. In years to come, as a father and grandfather, I have come to more fully understand how overwhelmed she must have felt.”

After reading this story, it’s hard not to ponder the difference between being a kid in the 1940s and one today. For starters, many kids would likely not even notice a set of silverware in a shop window. Extracurricular activities and digital toys regularly keep many children preoccupied. These same activities often prevent them from going out and getting an after-school or summer job.

But there’s one major factor which underlies all of these things, namely, the respect and honor for parents. As Shanko implies in an earlier part of the story, his parents were not able to give him a lot in terms of worldly goods.

What they did give him, however, was character. They instilled discipline through their own example, working selflessly side-by-side with their children, not allowing them to give in when the going got tough. In all likelihood, it was this discipline and hard work which planted the desire for Shanko to express such an overwhelming outpouring of love to his mother through his gift.

While there are still some loyal, respectful kids out there who honor their parents in a similar way, I think it’s safe to say that such respect is rare.

Is it still possible to raise children who exhibit the respect, work ethic, and lack of entitlement that Shanko demonstrated as a young teen? I think it is. But are Americans willing to abandon the kinder, gentler, let-me-be-your friend approach to parenting that has been adopted in recent years in order to do so?

The fact of the matter is, we will never have children who love and respect others – especially their parents – if we teach them to love and respect their own selves first and foremost.


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Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.

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...and what did the older generations do with their wealth when they finally acquired it? Did they share at all, or did they rig the system so that no one else could have as much? Blanket statements about our kids and about parenting really don't help anyone. This submission makes a few assumptions that aren't valid. This is the type of "in MY day" generational warfare that ends communication, not initiates it. Factually, this generation of kids will have less (wealth, jobs, voice) than their parents' generation did, and the most selfish generation alive is two generations past removed from those parents. They have hoarded wealth and power as if they could take it with them. So if you mean to criticize, start in the past, not the present because "we" have taken away more from this generation of kids than any since ww2. I've worked with kids for 30 years and I'll trust them more than the boomers any day on any subject.


Texas Chaos Kat
Why so bitter? Because your parents did not do without in order to save enough to leave you when they died? Most kids today have no respect or compassion for anyone. They lie, cheat and steal without thought beyond their desires. Parents are responsible for teaching their children and they are not doing their job.
Right for you here Annie. Most children have no respect for their parents or adults alike because there isn't a reason to give any. They weren't raised so much as kept alive and told to stay in school, don't do drugs and get to college so you can be in debt before you even own a home. How do you learn how to respect others or give respect unknowningly if you have never received it or even been able to perceive it. Also your story doesn't show a kid respecting his parents, it shows a kid that wants to make his parents happy in someway in their probably miserable existance at the time. For a child to have to get several jobs, luckily not for having to support his family given the time frame, is still sad in my eyes. Hopefully you can right a narrative better next time.