There is a lot of social media discussion about kids having no manners, especially offspring who display a lack of civility towards adults and their own families. I hear a lot of squawking from families how “they didn’t learn this from us!” I find that kind of funny. 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 will be how your offspring will treat you.

When we were younger and had predictable schedules, our extended family had nightly (or nearly) family meals. Then there was cancer and heart surgeries, in tight order and my enthusiasm (or what remained of it) for cooking decreased hugely.

This doesn’t exclude communal family occasions, but it shifts the responsibility for making it happen from me to them. In all the old movies, Granny is thrilled to spend every moment of her life cooking for a family who she eagerly welcomes any time they show up. I suspect that was all Hollywood. Most of us have other stuff we’d like to do. Blogging. Reading. Writing. Painting. Sculpting. Gardening. Even (gasp) watching TV or a movie!

As a youngster, it was shocking to imagine grandparents having a life of their own. I assumed older people would want to move in with the kids. It never crossed my mind that I was going to be one of those older people — and the kids would be more likely to move in with us because we have the house.

We eat together, all of us in front of the television because tray tables are cozier than a big dining table which in any case is usually covered with cameras, lenses and other electronic equipment. If we are celebrating an “eating” holiday, the dining table makes sense, but otherwise? It’s just extra work.

Despite no longer dining together, we are usually nice to each other. We have miscellaneous squabbles, but “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” are normal parts of conversation. Our ability to get along isn’t linked to dining. If it were, we’d be in trouble. Not having family dinners has not turned us into barbarians nor did having those meals civilize us.

I keep reading posts deploring the loss of family dinners. It’s apparently the ultimate sign of civilization’s end but I think society’s disintegration is a lot more complicated than that. Throughout the realm of so-called social media, you hear the same story. The younger generation has no manners! Hot flash! The older generation is rude too. You only need to take a look at our political process to get a sense of how bad our manners have 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. They threaten and shout until they are hoarse. The kids don’t hear them. The shouting combined with unenforceable threats is background noise to which no one pays attention, not even the people making the noise.

Then there are all the posts promoting spanking as the solution. Spanking teaches only one lesson: bigger and stronger wins. What could go wrong with that as a life-lesson?

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. Too little, 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 world than the one in which we were raised. 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 weapons 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 made any effort 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 see that and agree. Why should they be nicer than you are? Raising kids is the ultimate example of “you get what you pay for.” Or less.

Categories: manners & civility, Marilyn Armstrong, Music, Relationships, social media

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14 replies

  1. You’re absolutely right Marilyn. Kids emulate what they see.


  2. Yes, indeed kids learn what they see and hear, not only the parts you want them to. In my family practice, I would alert parents to this and let them know that their 15-24 month old child would show them every little speech habit they had. And they don’t quit emulating behaviors as they get older.


  3. I don’t spend a lot of time with children but I cringe at the way some parents speak to their children. I can’t see how yelling at them and even swearing at them is going to help them learn how to behave.


  4. Quite right. Children learn manners at home and by example. People my age are incredibly rude and hostile, so it’s no wonder that their children are too!


    • No one seems to get that kids become we they see, not what we “tell them.” And they don’t seem to “see” the OWN behavior as having any meaning or their hostility and incivility as a teaching tool. They want kids to learn what they tell them, not what they see. It doesn’t work that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the tricks that prospective Employers used to do was invite to invite a prospective Employee to dinner. The prospective Employee often didn’t know that he was being judged by his Manners. Table manners for instance. I have acquaintances who received no education in fundamental table Manners and I really have to say it affects my relations with them – even though it’s not their fault. Chomping away like a horse a carrot is not a good table manners. My background and upbringing was proper English etiquette. I resented it as a kid, but have come recognize it’s value over and over.
    This upbringing translates to a lot of course, but I surely don’t consider myself a snob either.
    Knowing such things has value.


    • Even if you don’t know which fork is which, learning to not eat while drooling food is probably a useful tool. I didn’t learn “proper” table manners, but I did learn to be polite and that went a very long way. I think basic civility is a fundamental tool for life. You can learn all the other things if you have that ONE thing.


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