Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Civilizing kids

Thomas Sowell recently made one of those throw-away remarks that really get you thinking. The kind that seems like a statement of something obvious - perhaps something so obvious that people have forgotten it.

He said that nobody is born civilized.

This came back to me the other day when I had to tell my 5-year-old to say "please" for the gazillionth time. We've been working on "please", "thank you" and "excuse me" for... a long time now it seems.

The kid will say, "Give me..." sometimes in the most demanding tone. What we do is the classic, "What's the magic word?" or just "What?" (Repeat until desired result.)

We constantly have to make him say "thank you" to friends and strangers (such as wait-persons) when they give him something and "excuse me" when he brushes past people. We've been doing this since he became verbal - and though we're making progress we really wonder when it'll become habit.

And of course, as parents of a boy we have to deal with hitting issues too. As in, we don't hit just because we're mad at someone. The other day he came in with a split lip after hitting his best friend - who hit back. We took the opportunity to explain - again, that that's what happens when you hit. I suspect it'll sink in eventually, that lesson was worth a lot of sermonizing.

It seems like rearing every child recapitulates the invention of civilization - if you succeed. Children have to be taught that the world does not revolve around them and that other people should be treated as if they mattered, which is the essence of manners.

I think that a lot of parents these days feel that the times we live in often make this difficult. People espousing trendy child-rearing fads seem to think that they can reinvent human nature, and have the right to experiment on our kids. The "self-esteem" movement, and perhaps the trend towards the one-child family, seem to have produced a lot of self-absorbed narcissists lately.

Sometimes (often actually) it's maddening and frustrating, but we have to keep at it. If we don't, we'll be raising rotten kids. And if enough of us don't, we'll be passing on a civilization rotten at the core and ripe to fall.

In the long run, we'll have our reward when we see what kind of young men and women we've raised. In the short run, we sometimes get thanks from people, like the cashier who thanked me for making my son say "thank you" when she handed him his sno-cone.

But it worried me when she told me it was very rare in her experience for parents to do that.


  • At 6:53 AM, Blogger Howard S. Browne said…

    You have forgotten Browne's First Law: "Children will adopt the manners, morals and grammar of their least desirable playmate.
    What you teach them at home will work for about five years. Then they enter the pubic gene pool and become barbarians until they are about thirty, if you arelucky.

  • At 10:35 PM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    I'm curious about one thing: what do you think of the average kid in Europe, as compared to American ones?

    Some years back, a friend of mine was married to an Englishman. They told me once that they had been at the movies, and he suddenly said "look around and tell me which family here is English." She looked around for a moment, and then said she picked them right out- the kids were standing quietly next to their parents. Somehow, it stood right out.


  • At 11:26 PM, Blogger dchamil said…

    Alas, we are living in the new coarse, rude America, where common courtesy has become uncommon. It has become a rarity to hear "you're welcome" in response to "thank you."

  • At 6:39 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Well, when it concerns things like turning off the TV I think my wife is a little contemptuous of American parents who can't bear to say "No" to their kids. On the other hand, she has friends and relatives in Poland with the same problem.

    We also have Mexican friends from that supposedly traditional, family-centered culture whose kids are really out of control.

    My interaction with European kids is almost entirely in Poland, so I don't really have a good sample.

  • At 8:17 PM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    Thank you for taking on this heavy but important burden.
    The worst thing that has happened to parenting in the last 30 years is the self-esteem lie, propounded by the union-labor driven socialized education establishment.
    Catering to weakness never allows the individual with it to become strong. People don't need to be taught to think only of themselves, it comes quite naturally...Look at what the political class does (inspite of what they say) as proof.

  • At 10:52 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    I have not gotten around to reading him yet (my education is being interrupted by the immediate need to get more university degrees), but violence professionals I know recommend Dr. Stanley Samenow's 'Inside the Criminal Mind'.

    Samenow is hated by social workers and "root causes" types, and highly respected by cops, corrections officials, security people etc.

    What he says is that the criminal's problem is entirely too much "self-esteem". Everything is all about him and the gratification of his desires RIGHT NOW!

    On the milder end of the spectrum, is the disdain for manners and politeness. Manners is all about treating other people as if they mattered.


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