TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL – Marilyn Armstrong

There is a lot of social media discussion about kids having no manners. Offspring who display a lack of civility towards adults in general and their own families in particular. I hear a lot of squawking from families how “they didn’t learn this from us!” which I find amusing. They learned it somewhere, so I’m guessing home is exactly where they learned it.

The way you treat your children, each other and the rest of the world is going to be exactly how your offspring will treat you.

When we were younger and on predictable schedules, our extended family had nightly (or nearly so) family meals. As we’ve all gotten older, I stopped wanting to cook for a crowd every night and figured there was no reason I should.

This doesn’t exclude communal family occasions, but it shifts the responsibility for making it happen from me to them. I figure that’s fair. In all the old movies, Granny is eager to spend every blessed moment of her life cooking for the crowd who she eagerly welcomes any time of the day or night. I suspect that was the Hollywood version because most of us have other stuff we’d like to do. Blogging. Reading. Writing. Painting. Sculpting. Gardening. Even watching television!

As a youngster, it was almost shocking to imagine grandparents having a life of their own. I assumed older people would naturally want to move in with the kids. It never crossed my mind that I was going to ever be one of those older people.

My husband and I eat together, mostly in front of the television because the tray tables are cozier than the big dining room. If we are celebrating an “eating” holiday — Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, a birthday, whatever — the dining table makes sense. These days, mostly it holds my cameras. So I can take pictures of squirrels hogging the bird feeders.

Despite no longer dining together, we are reasonably nice anyway. We have our disagreements, but “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and similar expressions are normal parts of regular conversation. Our ability to get along isn’t linked to eating together. If it were, we’d be in trouble. Not having family dinners has not turned us into barbarians nor did having them make us civilized.

I keep reading posts deploring the loss of family dinners. It’s apparently the sign of the end of society. It is the equivalent of the end of human civilization itself. I don’t agree. Society’s disintegration is a lot more complicated than that.

All over social media, you hear the same story. The younger generation has no manners! Hot flash! The older generation is astonishingly rude too. You only need to take a look at our president and his cronies to get a solid sense of just how bad our manners have “officially” become. As far as I can see, out in the big wide world, parents talk to each other and their children without as much as a pretense of civility.

They order kids around or ignore them except to complain or punish them. They threaten them and shout at them until they are hoarse. The kids don’t hear them. The shouting combined with toothless threats becomes background noise.

This is true with kids and pets. If you always yell at the dog, the dog will ignore you too.

Then there are all the posts promoting spanking as the ultimate solution. Spanking teaches only one lesson. The biggest and strongest always wins. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Eventually, all offspring rebel. It’s normal, natural, inevitable, and healthy. They should rebel. Kids need to break away and build their own lives. If their entire upbringing consisted of being alternately yelled at, nagged, bullied and threatened, interspersed with an occasional hug, they aren’t going to come back. They’re just gone. Mom and Dad figured a bit of hugging and an occasional “I love you” would make it all better. It didn’t. It was much too little and a lot too late.

You don’t have to love everything the younger generation does, but it doesn’t hurt to know something about them and what their lives are like. It is a very different place than the one in which we grew up. We had silly drills to hide under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. We didn’t have to worry about real people with automatic guns coming in and mowing us down in our classrooms.

Kids learn by experience. They treat others as they have been treated. You can’t expect respect from kids who have never experienced respect, nor require good manners from youngsters whose parents wouldn’t know manners from a tree stump. Moreover, your children won’t try to understand you when you haven’t tried to understand them.

If you think you don’t need no stinkin’ manners when you talk to your children, husband, friends, and strangers, your children probably agree. Why should they be nicer than you are?

Raising kids is the ultimate example of “you get what you pay for.” Or less.

23 thoughts on “TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. I find this entire topic hilarious. The first time I ever heard anyone complaining about the “new” generation, it was my great aunts and uncles. So my parents generation were the ones to be complained about. Then my parents generation complained about ours. And our generation has come to complain about our kids’ and now our grandkids. Welp. Guess what? Kids have ALWAYS challenged adults. That’s part of the developmental process. There have always been defiant kids (thank God) and challenging kids and kids who provoke. As a teacher, they were my favorites year after year.

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    • We are supposed to defy our parents and the older generation. It’s an important part of growing up. Children shouldn’t be living with mom as they turn 40ish. These days, if a kid isn’t sitting quietly doing what he/she is told, they figure they must be ADHD and require drugs. If they been giving drugs when I was a kid, I’d have been really drugged.

      I think my favorite school moment was when I had nothing to do so I read all the books in the closet and it turned out I’d read all the readers up through sixth grade. They were irate. What were they going to give me to do? My mother suggested if I could read all their official readers in 2nd grade, that I might need more challenging material? They were shocked at the idea! And no, they didn’t have a plan.

      To be fair, I’m less worried about the kids then I am about the world in which they are growing up. We had fun when we were kids. No, life wasn’t perfect, but we went out, we played, we weren’t on an electronic leash. We fought our own battles and we grew up knowing that you can lose, dust yourself off, and go back and work things out.

      I’m not sure kids are getting the opportunity to face a “real” world. They are so over-protected and simultaneously neglected, I wonder how they will learn what relationships are supposed to be about? I’m very glad I’m not growing up now.

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      • Ha! My only “disciplinary” action in elementary school came because I kept going to the bathroom and not coming back, They discovered that I’d have a novel under my shirt. “But I really wanted to see what happened next….” was my excuse. I guess for me, having been a teacher for so many years, I see that kids are still curious, excited, defiant, creative…Some kids are still mucking about in the woods (my grandkids, whose mom is a teacher) others are facing classroom challenges. It all works out. I think there have always been over protected kids and overly uncontrolled kids. I just smile at the way that the older generation views the younger, now that I’ve seen three generations move past me.

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        • This state has gone 100% for test scores. The teachers hate it. The students hate it. I don’t think the kids are unwilling to learn, but it’s like permanently studying for your SATs.

          I used to keep a book and read in my lap and hope no one noticed. Eventually, they noticed but I think since they didn’t really know what to do with me, they pretended to NOT notice.

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  2. In a nut shell. I couldn’t agree more. I watch kids and their interactions with adults wherever I go. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by the respect consideration even affection I see, but all too often, it is the opposite. I realize parents are tired working then expecting to look after tots all night. It’s not easy, it’s never been an easy job and the pay is deplorable, but it’s what you signed up for when you had kids. They don’t stay sweet little babies forever, at some point they need love affection interaction doing stuff with their parents and the parents have to be there for them, tired or not. It’s part of your responsibility as a parent. Kids rebel and they do it in hundreds of different ways (we wouldn’t particularly want carbon copies of ourselves would we?) and eventually they grow out of the rebellious stage and become human again. Hopefully caring responsible thoughtful loving humans whose interests grow beyond themselves their wants and needs to include family friends neighbours and the world.

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    • It’s like the “I’m sorry” issue. As a parent, it’s possible to be wrong, too. I think I was the only parent I knew who apologized when I realized I was wrong or had lost my temper because I was tired and cranky. I even went so far as to explain that kids get cranky and parents are just grown-up kids with a lot on our minds, so we have our own little temper tantrums. When my son grew up, he treated his daughter the same way. One day she said, “couldn’t you just spank me instead of TALKING TO ME?” So he talked TWICE as long.

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  3. Pingback: UPON REFLECTION – Marilyn Armstrong – Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

    • I think everybody has had the same comments and it was true way back then and it’s true now. There are many things children learn in school, from the news, from their friends … but decency, a moral center, manners, civility — those things are learned at home. I think it is why some of the best and worse people come from wealthy homes. It isn’t the money that makes the difference. It’s the quality of the upbringing.

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  4. Interesting video for the CSN&Y song. Most of the kids I know are very well behaved. It seems like “misbehaved” children are always someone else’s problem…. Our society in general is ultra-rude, far worse than I’ve seen in my life, but these nice kids give me hope that it won’t be forever.

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    • My kid was polite, but his parents were polite. IF you come from a family that’s polite, your kids will be too. If you come from an educated family — by which I mean one that uses “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me,” so will the kids. But if they are looking “outside,” the aren’t going to learn it from television or watching the news.

      The illustrations with the CSN&Y song made me cry. Garry used to use that song in the 70s when he was doing busing stories in Boston. Some songs really “stick.”

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  5. I deplore the lack of direct face-to-face communication in favor of texting these days. I have seen two young people texting one another while walking side by side instead of just talking. I have a friend who, while I am talking directly to her in my living room, pulls out her phone and texts someone. It is so incredibly rude. Her excuse is that she is making a work call. I have another friend, a very successful stage director, who spends holidays with us, and he is never on his phone.He has manners.As the song says, “They have to be carefully taught.” Every older generation has always said, “What is the younger generation coming to?” These days, the woeful state of mannerly communication is part of the answer.

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    • They learn what they’ve been taught and not by television or the news. If they are treated with respect and civility, they will grow up to be civil, respectful people. It’s that simple. It always makes me laugh when they say “they didn’t learn that at home.” Because they did. They may learn slang from their friends, but they learn manners at home.

      One of the things that made me give up family dinners was the telephone. I said “no phones at the table” and my granddaughter’s parents overruled me and I said “fine, make your own supper.”

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  6. When you hear little kids mouthing words that they probably don’t even understand you know that they can only have picked them up from the adults around them. Adults certainly need to set a better example and that goes for having good manners and treating other people nicely too. I don’t think it’s so much the loss of the family meal that has changed things but the loss of the time that family members spend talking to each other, that doesn’t have to be around the table.

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