Adults often complain that kids today don't respect their elders. But what happens when it's the other way around? What if young people are the ones who are not getting the respect and dignity they need to be successful in school and life?
We already know that students who don't feel respected at school tend to perform worse academically, but a recent Gallup World Poll found that America rates poorly among OECD countries when it comes to treating children with dignity and respect.
Gallup found that nearly a quarter of American adults do not believe that children are treated with dignity and respect in this country. Most strikingly, near four in 10 black respondents said that children are not treated with dignity and respect.
Our own research indicates that young people feel the same way. The Center for Promise recently conducted a youth-led research project to discover young people's perceptions of the obstacles to their wellness and well-being. What we heard, over and over again, is that too many young people of color are living in the opposite of an atmosphere of respect and dignity -- they live in fear of what is happening in their neighborhoods, fear of possible interactions with authorities and fear of being racially profiled and stereotyped.
Sadly, the disparity between the answers of black and white respondents on the question of dignity and respect toward children accurately reflects the different realities that people experience and perceive. Even if this result is not surprising, it should still have the power to shock, trouble and stir us to action.
And while some may think issues like respect and dignity may seem minor, that is NOT what young people think. In Don't Quit on Me, the Center for Promise found that feeling heard and respected by the adults in their lives played a crucial role in young people's lives and trajectories. As one young respondent said about the caring adults who helped him get back on track: "They've got the resources I need; you know what I'm saying? They've got the respect that I need; you know what I'm saying? Resources and respect, man… when they open their doors, they open their arms, too. You feel it."
And as PBS reported in 2016, five diverse California middle schools halved their number of suspensions when they fostered a culture of respect by helping teachers and students empathize with one another. Considering that suspending or expelling students greatly increases their odds of dropping out and ending up in the criminal justice system -- and that students of color are far more likely to be affected -- we can all learn the power of respect and dignity to help young people reach their full potential.
If we are to live up to the American ideal that every young person should have a real and fair chance to pursue their dreams and fulfill their potential, the Gallup findings show us that we have serious work to do.
John Gomperts is the president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance, the nation's largest network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth. To learn more, visit www.AmericasPromise.org or follow John on Twitter at @JohnGomperts.