A Letter to My 8-Year-Old Son
Respect: The #1 Lesson I Want You to Learn
It’s becoming harder and harder to explain to you why someone has just been killed.
Most recently, it was Trayvon Martin, a boy not too much older than you. “Why did that guy have to kill him, mom?” you asked after reading the newspaper headlines. I didn’t know how to respond, but the truth is: I don’t know why. I don’t know if anyone really knows why.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about it—and I realize there is a reason why killing and violence against babies, kids, and people of all ages is happening so much more these days.
We live in a disposable society, where many people believe that just about everything (including people) can be tossed away...like the stuff you throw in the garbage. I know it will make you cry (it makes me cry), but sometimes people even throw babies in the garbage. Kind of hard to believe that someone could do that, right?
But the reason why people do these things is they’ve lost something called respect—for life, for people, for things. I’m not sure where or when this happened exactly, but I want to teach you about respect so you can think and act differently as you get older.
That’s why I put together these 9 simple ways to learn respect. By following these, you—in turn—will get other people to respect you, which is the ultimate gift.
1) Treat yourself with respect. You can’t respect someone else and their life if you don’t love yourself and your body. Celebrate who you are and what makes you unique, even if people say mean things about you. That time when the kid in the lunchroom laughed and told you that you had really weird curly hair? Forget him. You’ve got great hair! You should never feel bad about your hair…or yourself. Treating yourself with respect also means wearing clothes that you love (like that homemade tie-dye shirt you insisted on wearing on your school picture day), eating foods that are good for you (yes, even those lentils that I make), and saying no to those things we talked about called drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. They’ll make your body sick.
2) Always clean up after yourself. Remember when we went hiking and you asked why someone had thrown his soda can by the trail? Litter is just one example of how people don’t clean up after themselves anymore; they expect others to clean up their messes. When they get bigger, these same people run companies that litter in even bigger ways—leaking bad stuff into oceans that kill the fish and into the air making it difficult for some people to breathe. So the next time I ask you to clean up your plate after dinner, remember why this is so important. And maybe one day, you’ll even run your own company—one that shows respect for the world around it by cleaning up after itself.
3) Treat animals with kindness. I know you love your puppies and your beetles and your pet frog. Never lose this love for animals. Always show respect for them: it’s been said that someone who treats animals well will show respect for people, too.
4) Don’t forget the truffula trees. One of your favorite stories has always been The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (long before it became a movie). Taking care of the world around you—like those truffula trees—is about taking care of the trees and grass and forests and oceans. This is why we recycle our newspapers and bottles and plastic containers. We’re doing it so that stuff doesn’t end up in the landfill (which is essentially a giant pile of garbage with some dirt thrown on top to hide it). Treat the environment around you with respect and you’ll be able to hike in it, kayak on it, swim in it, and enjoy it for many years to come.
5) Recognize that everyone is different. You’ve got your curly blonde hair, your sister has brown hair, and your dad has no hair (like your baby brother). In just one family, we’re all different: that’s the way it is in your school, our town, our country, and our world. And just because someone is different—in the way they look, they way they dress, the way they speak, the people they hang out with, or the religion they believe in—doesn’t mean they’re weird or bad or even worse, need to be killed as some people think. Accept them for who they are, let them do what they do (and you continue to do what you do). And that will make me proud.
6) Respect those who are older than you. You know your great grandma and grandpa, who are 95 and 96? They’ve been around a long time and they deserve a lot of respect—as do moms and dads. But many people don’t respect those who are older than them anymore; in fact, sometimes, as we read in the news, they call them bad names, forget about them, beat them up, take money from them, and do bad things to them. Kind of hard to believe that anyone could do that to a grandma or grandpa, right? But they do. That’s just an example of how completely crazy our world has become. Please always do what you can to protect the grandmas and grandpas of this world.
7) Always work hard. There is no way to “earn” easy money. You work hard now cleaning up your dishes, being nice to your sister, and helping around the house—and you should continue to work hard throughout life. Respect the value of hard work; so many people don’t today. They think they can do nothing and earn lots and lots of money (sometimes in ways that are not honest or nice). The end goal shouldn’t be about getting more and more money, but about doing what you love and always doing the right thing. You’ll never regret that.
8) Take care of your stuff. We toss our things away so quickly today that we barely have time to enjoy them anymore. People like your great grandma and grandpa used to take care of their belongings and, as a result, they kept them for a really long time. But now, things break easily or people get bored with them—and then most are just tossed in the trash…just like we watched in The Story of Stuff. Taking care of your (and other people’s) stuff—being careful with it so it doesn’t break, putting it away after you use it and, if it’s someone else’s, asking them to use it (instead of just taking it)—is how to show respect for things.
9) Finally, always, always respect life. You have one beautiful, awe-inspiring life ahead of you—live it to its fullest. (Never give up on that dream that you want to play for the New York Yankees!) And respect that everyone else has a right to live a long life, too. You can never get it back once it’s gone.
Those are my lessons. If you—and everyone—could learn these lessons early on, and put them into practice every day, the world would be a much safer, healthier, and happier place.
Love you lots,
Valerie Latona is the former editor-in-chief of Shape — and one of the leading writers/editors on the topic of living healthy with confidence. Find more about Valerie, and read more of her blogs, at valerielatona.com.