The Times has an interesting piece by a pediatrician who posits that manners are a key part of child development and that if they were referred to by a trendy new name ("social skills") more folks would be inclined to insist their tykes behave better.
The piece sent me off on a bit of a manners tangent at the bloglet today, and I found myself sounding off on something that concerns me as a parent: as a group, modern American parents (all adults, actually) tend not to present a united front to children when it comes to what manners we expect from them. Yes, many of us ask our kids to have basic table manners and ask for things with a "please" and a "thank you," but that's a cursory approach to courtesy, and often parental expectation stops right there when it needs to go deeper in my not-so-humble opinion. Yep, from what I can see, we don't all have the same expectations of children, and I'd say few adults really care about what an old teacher of mine once called "the line between familiarity and contempt."
I know it gets old to hear people crab on about bad manners and kids. I know many kids with plenty good manners. Of course. But there are plenty kids with poor manners 'cuz their parents either have poor manners too, or else their parents just don't think all the old-fashioned "frills" really matter anymore and are just that--frills rather than essential components of social interaction. I'm talking about a bigger picture that centers on respect for others, especially one's elders.
I've been criticized for the parent etiquette-related posts I do over at the Cookie bloglet. Sure, I like to be tart in my tone and poke fun at a Bragdaddy or a Multimedia Mommy, but there's a serious issue at stake: our kids. If adults don't know what really matters and are inclined to narcissistic ways of communicating with each other, what are they teaching their tots? And most important to me, what are they teaching mine?
It would be so dang excellent if all parents and teachers had the same basic expectations of kids! The same core code. Here's a wacky example of how it could be useful: As a former teacher for a semester at a private school, I had kids in my classroom who thought it was okay to chew gum in class (or when talking to an adults generally) because the school didn't have an official policy on gum-chewing. Gum-chewing! Like so many other PC moments in our culture, the school I taught at allowed gum-chewing at the teacher's discretion. Seriously. So you end up sending a kid off to a college interview and she arrives armed with swell grades but has a wad of Hubba Bubba in her cheek? Shweesh, man! Ri.di.cu.lous. Yet this is exactly what happens to a kid who has no idea of propriety, and who sees no big diffs between hanging with your buds and conducting yourself in the world at large.
Gum-chewing aside, there are many much more basic concepts of politeness that I wish to hell ALL GROWNUPS WOULD INSIST UPON so that all our kids would go out into the universe poised to be happy and successful adults, good co-workers, and overall thoughtful human beings who can absolutely rock the boat when it counts, but who also understand tact and the subtle arts of diplomacy that make people facile in society. There's nothing snobby or mysterious or overly stern about basic good manners, and it would be so much easier--much less work for all--if we could agree on them and stop sending mixed messages. How bloody magnificent would it be if we presented a uniform manners model to all our kids?
As I discuss in the bloglet post, I feel like there once was such a thing as a understanding among parents-- an "expected" way for kids to act towards parents and grownups in general--which the majority of adults automatically reinforced whenever kiddos didn't toe the line. But nowadays the whole parenting vibe is so diverse and complex, and you can't assume another mom (or teacher) or will agree with you on anything, from diet, to sleep, to conduct.
More's the pity. Anyhoo. I can dare to dream. Here's a rough draft of Manners Wish List (leaving aside obvious table manners and please/thank you stuff):
- Teachers can't be called by their first names. Ever. Much less school principals.
- Children should look adults in the eye when greeting them. From Kindergarten up, they should be encouraged to address adults by name when greeting them. (not just "hello/hi")
- By, say, third grade (when it can stick!), kids should be taught to step aside for adults when entering buildings or walking down stairwells.
- Children must always thank adults for having them at their homes.
- As soon as they are old enough to call each other on the phone, children must be taught to introduce themselves if a parent answers, and greet the parent by name (whether first name or Mrs. So-and-So), before asking for their buddy.
*p.s. A word about the Mr./Miss/Mrs. thing: Personally, I'm not bothered if kids call me by my first name. Traditions evolve and I don't think we need to force our kids to go into some needlessly old-fashioned mode that nobody around them participates in (I don't live in the South, y'all, so nobody around me does the Miss So-and-So thing). So long as a child is polite to me (as in the above list) I'm happy.*
And you? Are you a stickler for manners with your kid? Do you feel comfortable reprimanding others' kids for not displaying their manners ?