Sunday, May 8, 2011

On Manners

In a recent post, Jigsaw asked what skills we thought were essential to a child as they grew up.  After spending a few hours walking around with Boo and Irish Woman at the zoo today, the most important thing I could add to her list was manners.

Watching the many families at the zoo, with children ranging from newborn to almost adult, the groups that were stood out were the well behaved ones.  At some point in my life, it was the badly behaved children that were in the minority, but that doesn't seem to be the case now.  I'm not talking about rambunctious children who were loud and ran a bit.  That's expected behavior in an environment like the zoo.  I'm talking about the rude children, who ran over those in front of them, regardless of age and size, cursed at a rate that would make a Marine blush, threw temper tantrums at all stages of the game, and demanded that their parents conform to their wishes instead of the other way around.

Example:  We went to the new polar bear and grizzly bear exhibit.  The grizzlies weren't out at the time, but the polar bear was walking around in the shady areas of her enclosure.  She could be seen from some of the windows for a few moments at a time, but you had to be patient and content with just a glimpse or two.  A woman was there with her son, and when the polar bear wandered past their viewing window and went out of sight after a minute or two, the boy stamped his feet, banged on the glass, and cussed a blue streak.  Obviously this was his normal mode of behavior, because his mother didn't bat an eye.  One twist was that this boy was almost as tall as I am and was wearing a varsity football tee shirt from a local high school.  This wasn't a spoiled toddler or 3rd grader.  This was someone who is likely learning to drive and will be eligible to vote in a couple of years.

At one time, manners were learned on your parents' knees, and enforced with the back of their hands.  Sadly, it seems that most people aren't teaching their kids to act properly in public.  Acting like trash seems to be the norm now.  By trash I don't mean redneck, black, white, or whatever.  Trash is a state of mind and manner of acting that has nothing to do with where you or your ancestors come from.  I have known people who were as country redneck as they come, but they and their children knew to say please, excuse me, and thank you.  I have seen black kids at our schools who were bussed in from very poor, bad neighborhoods who knew to hold the door for women and never cursed in front of an adult.  Being trash comes from not having someone teach you how to act, enforcing those standards with pain if necessary, and setting an example.  It's an attitude of entitlement that grates on those of us who know how to act better.  Trash can come from any social, economic, or ethnic background.  In our neighborhood, I'd say that the children of the more well off are more likely to act like trash than those who come from more modest families, but there are those who teach their children how to act even if there's a Lexus parked in the garage.

Unfortunately for us, trash seems to be fashionable.  Reality TV stars trashing it up seem to be more popular than actual acting.  Entertainers who behave in ways that would have gotten them blacklisted a few decades ago are given accolades.  Athletes behave badly, but are absolved of their actions because they happen to have hit the genetic lottery.

As parents, we have to counteract these bad influences if we want our children to be more than another example of trash in society.  In addition to teaching them to work hard, be honest, and learn skills, we need to teach them how to act.  We have to walk the walk too.  You can't correct a child for being rude then act like trash yourself.  Maybe the best thing we can pass on to our kids is to show them how to not be trash.


Scott McCray said...

Amen, DB. I had my little hind end taken outside for acting up in church (and my misbehavior was something that pales next to today's norm). Did I behave when Dad took me back into the church service? You betcha. Did I subsequently use the same techniques on my son? Yep.
Said son is now in the reserves after two deployments to Iraq - he has told me time and again how happy he is that I was a strict but loving parent.
Oh - his manners? Outstanding - makes me proud.

Ruth said...

Won't argue with a word of that. As someone who's spent a great deal of time working retail and customer service, the number of kids with no manners is scary.

Jennifer said...

Absolutely! I have had the opportunity to observe my son when he doesn't know I am watching. I am proud to say that my 12 year old son will put down his trombone at 7:15 in the morning to open the door for a female classmate or teacher. They always, without fail, stop and thank him with obvious surprise. I'm glad that he does it, but I lament that they are surprised.

DaddyBear said...

Scott, please thank your son for his service for me. Sounds like y'all did a good job raising him up.

Scott McCray said...

I'll be happy to - and someday I can regale you with the joys of parenting an older teen - lol.

cybrus said...

I hear ya, DB. It truly amazes me how commonplace bad manners seem to be. And how it seems to surprise a lot of adults when my 3 year old says please and thank you.

ZerCool said...

I worked at BBHIS last night, and we had a couple little monsters (early teens) who took great pleasure in running around the store pushing the "Need help? Push here!" buttons so staff could trot off to find ... nothing. And in pulling out Every. Single. Display. Door. Completely blocked three full aisles.

Apparently they've done it before, and been ejected more than once. No one caught up to them last night, but even if we did, so what? "Leave." No other repercussions.

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