A friend remembers her mother trying to teach her and her sibling good manners at the breakfast table when they were young. "What's the magic word?" their mother asked before sliding pancakes on their plates. The younger sister thought and then answered triumphantly, "Bippity-boppity-boo!"
Well, that was then and this is now. As challenging as it's always been to teach children to be courteous, many parents think it's much more difficult today.
In the current climate world, rudeness often reigns. Cyberbullying is all too common. Television reality shows depict backstabbing behaviors and bickering. Politicians--even some of those running for the highest office in our land--hurl insults. Kids observe road rage, toxic interactions on playing fields and in sports arenas--and even in their own homes. (OK--who hasn't slammed a door or otherwise shown a regrettable lack of restraint or decorum in front of our children at least once?)
An overwhelming majority of Americans across all generations believe that lack of civility is a major societal problem today. And most of us think the problem is only going to worsen, because kids need to see civility modeled in order to learn it and that's increasingly a tall order. Parents have to work harder than ever, it seems, to teach kids what they need to live peacefully with one another--things like self-awareness and self-control, empathy, an understanding of the importance of thinking not just about ourselves but also about the common good.
Where to begin? Here are a few suggestions.
- When your children witness or observe incivility, don't miss the opportunity to talk with them about it. Explain why what was said was inappropriate. Encourage them to put themselves in the shoes of the recipient of the mean-spirited words or behavior. Teaching them how to look at the situation through the lens of the other person is one good way to teach empathy.