A few days ago we took the kids to a party and they pretty much shocked the pants off everyone with their Good evening Uncle, Good evening Aunty, Thank you for having us, except for the Bean saying her goodbyes and ending with, ‘Thank you for coming’! Yes, she’s four and easily confused but very particular about manners.
The hosts laughed their butts off and then proceeded to lecture us on ‘making’ the kids wish other adults the time of day and say please, thank you etc. This is something I’ve always found rather strange. Why is it that people don’t think manners are an unimportant lesson? Or that there is such a thing as teaching your kids manners too early? No, it doesn’t come naturally to kids to say Please, Thank you and May I, so if you don’t teach them, who will?
Oh he won’t say hello unless he likes you, says one smiling father. Another mother shrugs proudly – He’ll hit first and ask questions later. Eh? What am I missing? And parents are okay with this? Others believe it’s a part of modern parenting philosophy and throw words at you like - space, privacy, choice, development. He has only one childhood and we don’t like to tell him to do this or do that… says another, fondly watching her son throw stones at a stray dog. And what do our kids have – nine lives? “The books I’ve read and the school philosophy is to let the children find their own feet and decide what they think is right or wrong… ‘ she says, as her son pushes my daughter off her cycle roughly. I break the conversation and go running to save her since she’s about half his size. Clearly her son thinks there is nothing wrong with raising a hand on a little girl who is half his size. I hope all that psychology is useful as he grows up aggressive.
I understand some kids are shy and some are aggressive – but I am horrified when I don’t even see parents make a token effort. A simple reminder – say Good evening/Hello/Namaste to Aunty. Never mind if the kid doesn’t say it – you’ve begun something that he will slowly absorb and someday even surprise you by saying without prompting.
But (Yes, I am aware that you shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘but’) no one seems to care, by their own admission. All the kids go to new age schools where they are encouraged to explore their surroundings and find themselves. Where there is no discipline. No enforcement. I agree with that in theory. My kids go to a similar school. But are we throwing away decency and manners in this whole new way of parenting?
If your kid has looked deep within and only found arrogance or bad behaviour, how about you find some manners for him? Another kid stalks off from the skating class because he is punching a younger kid in the face and I stop him. I’m nobody of any relevance according to him. I’m not his mother and I’m not the skating coach, so what business is it of mine? I glare at him mencingly and firmly tell him that he MUST STOP HITTING. Or else, his eyes challenge me? Or else… I drift away. Or else nothing. I can do nothing. I am positive I won’t find any support in his parents. If they cared, he wouldn’t be as much of a bully as he is.
For instance, I recently saw this advertisement on TV and it horrified me. I’d skin my kids alive if they slid a coin across a counter so rudely to a shopkeeper, specially an elderly person. But advertisers clearly have been doing enough market surveys to know that arrogance is the new intelligence. When we were kids the advertisements enticed you with promises of growing to be like Kapil Dev or the smarter kid. But no, we no longer aspire to be hardworking or tall. We aim to be cocky. We want to be arrogant.
Because in some twisted way parents believe that being arrogant shows that we’re smart. We’re witty, we’re intelligent, we’re irreverent. That it makes their kids brave and intrepid. They don’t demand instant obedience. I get that. I don’t want zombies for kids either. But surely having your own mind and being well mannered are not mutually exclusive. And humility isn’t really an old fashioned virtue. I’m out of options now – I think I’m taking the next ticket to Mars.
I leave you with a piece by Samina Mishra. A senior from college, a sometimes colleague and a woman I admire tremendously for what she does with her life and the way she thinks. Enjoy.