When did we stop teaching our children proper manners?
That’s a question I pondered most recently following the attendance of not one but four graduations, welcome to small town news, as well as a vacation away for a bit.
Finding myself navigating young people who were not just dismissive, but outright rude and entitled – I found myself taking a breath – several of them.
Now before expanding further, I want to acknowledge as well as state these opinions are not of ALL young people. I happen to not only know, but encounter exceptional young people on the regular, often times highlighting them on these very pages or in this column space. Respectful/responsible kids are out there, but if we don’t get ahold of whatever this current parenting technique is and make some adjustments as a society, well it’s just not good.
My fear and prompting of this piece comes from much of what I have seen and lived the past four years as a mom. This whole generation of “friend” parenting as I like to call it, is quite simply for the birds and not benefitting our children in any way. There’s also the ever-present technology babysitters which leave us with a generation that struggles at making small talk and God forbid you try and look them in the eye.
Oh yes, I understand taking children out to eat can be difficult, but I’m sorry to point out if you must place an iPad in front of your child in order to enjoy a nice night out having dinner perhaps hiring a babysitter would have been a better choice.
As the mom of two, three years apart, I very much remember the struggle of eating out with two kids in tow. But just because you have children should not mean you must live as a shut in, not to mention how else are children going to learn if they’re not exposed?
This would be the time as parents, we would request the coloring pages at check in or bring one of our own, engaging with our duo as we enjoyed a night out as a family. Mobile devices were a “thing” then, but they were not something present at the dinner table (be it out or dining in). Unbeknownst to us, us two people like everyone else, simply trying to figure it out, this resulted in two children who not only know how but enjoy dinner conversation.
Case in point, not that long ago while seated for dinner my daughter had a look of disappointment on her face as we sat eating dinner. True to her genes, just like mom, her poker face is weak; yet she didn’t say a word. As I assessed the table in search of the solution to the unspoken problem, I noticed a family member on their phone as someone was sharing a story. That quickly changed and a reminder of what “dinner time” should look like was revisited.
Parenting is not just work, it’s consistency in the message, as well as role modeling the expectation. Oh sure, as a person who gets much of her work on the wonderful handheld computer (aka iPhone) I take with me everywhere, both my kids know there are times with exceptions. I mean bills must be paid and work must be done, but we still have guidelines.
The thing which caught me the most off guard while on vacation was the blatant disrespect younger people have for adults. Simple examples: entering an elevator before passengers step off, walking directly into an adult when going down a hallway versus detouring themselves to the proper side of the aisle, cutting in front of someone to see something without using an “excuse me” and my most favorite, holding up an elevator while loading at a leisurely pace as your face is stuck in your phone. All of this happening with parents alongside of them seeming completely oblivious as it happens.
Then my faith was restored as one sweet and adorable four-year-old acted up during dinner on our final night of vacation. Her sassy card was strong, but her adult table mates (mom, dad and grandma) were not on board. It began with her insistence that she too would have an adult beverage for the toast like everyone else. In came grandma quick with a little ice tea in a nearby glass sharing the compromise with the four-year-old who recognized the “treat” and accepted. Important to point out there was no device entertaining this child, so the adult attention was needed and given. Then there was the standing on the dinner bench, which mom quickly corrected with a stern, loving voice.
The final test came as mom excused herself to take the pint-sized diner to the ladies’ room, as she got up to leave, she quickly looked at dad and directed him, “Do not touch my fries!” As mom and daughter walked away, grandma leaned over and shared with my daughter and I her displeasure with the sassiness. Together we all shared a laugh recognizing she was doing what kids do and testing her boundaries. I also may have told dad through a chuckle that I would have eaten all the fries, with a wink to follow.
Returning to the table the pint-sized diner ate her fries as well as a little ice cream politely. Before leaving both my daughter and I complimented her on her beautiful hair bow as well as her manners. Smiles all around were the perfect end to our meal.
The point is simple and regardless of how many decades pass and books are written it comes down to the simplest of things: manners must be taught, modeled and encouraged and not just by the family. As we find ourselves in unprecedented times when everything and anything a child does can be blast on the world wide web with a photo and a few finger strokes, it’s important for us to work together to continue encouragement in real life person. Forget about the “likes”, “shares” and all this superficial stuff. Being in the moment with our youth and modeling what all this means is in the end how we build better people. Humanity after all depends on it and as a parent if that’s not recognized, well you’re simply failing at your job.
Here’s to the young parents who are “getting it,” we not only see you, but appreciate you and your children. As for the rest, put the devices away, remember to “respect your elders” and for goodness sake, stop trying to be their best friend. Believe it or not, that time (if you’re lucky) will come – but not when they’re four.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 209-847-3021.