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June 19, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Wanted: Kids with manners

Illustration by Donna Grethen

Illustration by Donna Grethen

Summertime brings us parents into much closer contact with the kids in our children’s lives. Play times that normally happen during the school day or in after-school programs are now front and center in our homes. I take a hands-off approach to choosing my son’s friends. We talk about the need for honest, supportive friends. He can spot a bully a mile off. And friends who lie, cheat and steal are deal breakers. But part of becoming his own person is deciding for himself what makes a good friend.

I on the other hand am about to lose it with some of his friends. First, there was the classmate we picked up after school one day and decided to treat to burgers at a nearby restaurant. I actually said, “let’s go for burgers.” Imagine my surprise when my son’s friend sat down, perused the menu and said without lifting his eyes from the menu, “I’m in the mood for steak.” What I said next riles me to this day.

“The hamburgers look good,” I squeaked to no one in particular. When the waitress came to our table the boy turned to her, ordered his steak, ‘well-done please’ and began perusing the flavors of milkshakes. He never once looked at me.  Throughout the meal he ordered little things from her, steak sauce, fries instead of vegetables.  He even helped himself to my son’s fries. (No, I wasn’t angry because I wanted them.) By dessert I had recovered from my shock. When the waitress asked him if he cared for dessert, I didn’t snarl at her and ask if she thought an 11-year-old was in charge, I merely smiled and replied “no thank you, we would just like the check.”

On another day, my house is the site of an afternoon play date with my son and two other boys. I love these afternoons for the peals of laughter heard around the house and the chance to curl up with a book mostly undisturbed. I ordered pizza. Cheese, no red sauce. My son doesn’t eat red sauce. I’ve done that a hundred times and the kids all either adapt, or when I ask, tell me otherwise and I split the pizza in half. The pizza came, was devoured in seconds and all was well until one boy’s Dad came to pick him.

When I thanked little Mr. Sunshine at the door for spending the day at our house, he piped up, “I didn’t like that pizza.” You’ll like the gruel served next time even less, I started to reply. Instead I looked at the boy’s Dad who looked at his son and asked, “What was on the pizza?” Cheese and nothing else, the boy sniffed. “Oh” the Dad said, in what appeared to me as an understanding – ‘yikes, I hear ya buddy’ – tone. They left. I can only hope Dad told son that when you’re a guest in someone’s home, you take what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

Are we teaching kids manners these days? A 2009 poll by the website Babycenter found that the majority of parents value good manners in their kids. Among the many reasons parents valued good manners was  the belief that “increasing global competition makes me want to prepare my kids” for a competitive working world.

Among the examples of what parents in that poll considered good manners was treating adults with respect. Sounds good to me.

I know that a combination of hormones and immaturity takes the lack of manners to a whole new level with middle school kids, but I believe in the broken window theory. Left unadressed, little bouts of rudeness turn into even longer bouts of dysfunction. You can see that in public discourse among adults. I know its a stretch, but dare I extrapolate to incidents of road rage or domestic abuse?

For parents who think instilling manners is difficult there is the Dummies version of raising your child to have manners.

What are your stories, current or long ago, about rude kids? How did you handle them?

Comments | Topics: children, Education, manners

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