On Manners

A friend of mine was talking recently about the epidemic of ill-behaved children from the middle class which seems to be sweeping our nation. In casual conversation, everyone agreed that there are an awful lot of ill behaved children out there, and many of them do seem to come from the middle classes, and it made me start wondering about why, exactly, this is. What is it about the middle class that seems to create a perfect recipe for horrid children?

I have a couple of theories. The first is that the middle class in this country seems to be the most invested in an entitlement complex, and people with an entitlement complex tend to raise children with the same problem. There’s this attitude that their children should be allowed to do whatever they want, and any suggestions to the contrary are met with icy stares and “don’t tell me how to raise my child.” I suspect also that many people in the middle classes read stupid parenting books which tell them to allow their children to do whatever they want, because it seems to be such a uniform pattern. I also think that people in the middle class don’t have the well developed systems of honor and pride that the lower and upper classes do. Poor kids don’t act up because their parents don’t want to feed stereotypes, while upper class kids aren’t snots because their parents want them to succeed in their own mannered ranks.

Perhaps these theories are entirely wrong; a controlled study would be necessary to determine how many children in this country are ill behaved, and then to determine which economic classes they belong to. Only then could a real, solid connection be made between bad behaviour and economic class. My theories come only from casual observation and conversations with other people, not from any sound scientific grounds. They also come, of course, from my interactions with people and children from the lower, middle, and upper classes, especially in the context of retail. Retail can be a telling way to learn about the human condition, because it brings out the worst in people.

Now, one of my personal long standing policies has been to not get involved in how other people handle their children. However, if I see a kid doing something dangerous and stupid, like wandering out into traffic or fingering an electrical outlet, I say something, out of a desire to prevent the child from injuring itself. I will never forget the day back when I was in retail when I saw a kid missing around with an outlet, and I said “I wouldn’t recommend touching that,” and the mother flipped out and started screaming at me. For hindering her child’s exploration, or some such. Fortunately for me, my manager had witnessed the entire interaction, so when entitled mommy tried to get me fired, my manager told her to stuff it.

I tend not to be as outspoken about poor manners, because while they are irritating, they are not usually life threatening. But I don’t understand how parents think it is acceptable to allow their children to run around screaming, to throw tantrums, to break things, and to generally behave like, well, like ill behaved children. If I’m walking down the street and I see an old lady with a walker, I try to be aware of the fact that she might not be as steady on her feet as I am, and I am careful as we cross paths. I imagine that if I had children, I would tell them to slow down, not to run full tilt at the poor woman and knock her down. (Yes, this actually happened recently on one of my ambles through town, to my astonishment.) I understand that everyone has different approaches for parenting, and this is what makes us unique, but it seems like insisting on a baseline of decent behaviour is not unreasonable.

Are manners such a bad thing? I mean, I’m not the best mannered person in the entire world, and as a kid I could be a real snotrag sometimes, but I like to think that I observed the basics of common courtesy. And when I did decide to pitch a screaming fit in public, my father promptly took me home. I feel like allowing your kids to do whatever they want isn’t just irritating for everyone else, it also ultimately hurts your kid. Your kid is going to grow up with nasty manners and an entitlement complex, and that is not really a great way to succeed in the world.

Small courtesies go a long way, and as a child I feel like my father really reinforced that.

It’s especially galling that all of these entitled, bratty parents expect society to bow down and adore their children, say “oh, it takes a village to raise a child,” and yet they absolutely refuse to have any sort of respect for others. We’re all supposed to adore their little darlings for their cute antics; Pete forbid that we not like children, or that we comment when a child is being inexcusably thoughtless, reckless, or rude. You can’t have it both ways, homechickens. Either it takes a village, in which case I get the right to tell your squalling brat to shut up, or it doesn’t, in which case you have the right to stay at home with your ill behaved, screaming children all the time, so that the rest of us don’t have to be involved in any way, shape, or form in their upbringing.

Note to my parenting friends: none of the above is meant in any way, shape, or form to cast aspersions on your parenting. This is more a generic collection of thoughts and observations, not a targeted attack; I hope you all know me well enough to know that if I have a problem with something that someone is doing, I say it to their face, not in a sneaky, passive aggressive way. Also, I happen to think that y’all are doing a pretty fine job; I might not be into kids all that much, but yours are pretty cool.

One Reply to “On Manners”

  1. As a parent, I agree with everything you say. The problem is one of perspective: I can see each and every thing that every one of my friends is doing wrong while raising their children, but am completely incapable of figuring out how I am screwing up my own children. And I am absolutely sure that I am screwing them up somehow. I even joke with them that I will need to help them pay for their college, their weddings, and their therapy. One thing is for sure; I am screwing them up in a completely different way than my parents screwed me up.

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