Kids These Days

I think of living elegantly as sort of gliding through life. It is an appealing thought, that seamless transition from event to event, place to place and deed to deed. To live like this requires social lubricant. And no, I do not mean drinks at noon, as nice as that might sound.

I mean manners. Simple, direct, thoughtfulness. Ot at least awareness of the impact that your actions may have on others.

Like the young woman who didn’t curb her dog yesterday after “walking it” on my sidewalk. Mrs. E. unleashed her high school teacher alter-ego and ran her down to hand her a bag. For which action she was rewarded, what my friend from Tennessee would call, “the stinkeye.”

Yes, I am fully aware that I am tilting at windmills.

I have just returned from The Children’s Museum. Kids these days…

But who can blame them? They have no role models.

I realize that sportsmanship and manners are two distinctly different things. So the men who ignored the children’s behaviour think they have an excuse. I mention sportsmanship because, almost to a man, each of them was dressed for action. Iron Man triathlete watches. All-terrain trainers. Ripstop hiking shorts with extra pockets. Dry-release technical t-shirts or ripstop fishing guide shirts with the ventilated backs. Ball caps, boonie hats, straw golfer’s hats.

I was a bit surprised not to have seen a canteen swung from a shoulder. Yes, these were clearly coaches, assistant coaches, big game hunters, arctic explorers. They had bigger fish to fry than to worry about something so arcane as good manners. And each was being singularly ineffective at it, whatever it was. Most were just obstacles for the racing hordes.

Of course the place was a zoo. Which must have been difficult for the child actors who were belting their way through “Suessical, the Musical” (Abridged.) There were also a few polo shirted and be-khaki’ed men milling about with their charges … quiet and well-behaved children who watched the show. And a number of mothers and care-takers who were taking care to behave politely and not station themselves directly in front of me, thereby obstructing the view. One actually said excuse me when she tried to pass in back of me with the double stroller. I assured her that it was I who should be excused for impeding her passage. (“Oh, sorry… please….”)

No, I figure the coaches and crocodile hunters let their wives handle the social niceties. Not that there was any evidence that they had been so charged. They stood about, for the most part, in nicely dressed cliques of three and watched as their children ran roughshod over anything, or anyone, standing in their paths. When an older child zipped in front of my two year old and tripped him up causing him to smack face-first into the iron stairway he was trying to negotiate (I was a half step away… trying not to trip over the little hellion who dashed between us) there was simply a blank stare from a woman standing next to us.

No admonition to “be careful young man.”

Not even feigned concern or a “Oh goodness, I hope he’s OK.”

But then I imagine she was having difficulty talking on her cell phone since it was so loud in the museum today.

Are my kids perfect? Far from it. But they apologize. When asked. They share. When asked. They try to be patient. When asked. They take turns. When they are told to.

See a pattern?

Is it because we don’t know everybody in town they way people used to? (“Oh Mrs. Reilly, I am sorry. Johnny is a bit wound up with all the chocolate and excitement today. Johnny, tell Billy you’re sorry this instant.”)

Or are we no longer a reflection of our parents? (“Mind your manners. You are an ambassador of your country” I was frequently reminded. “Do not embarrass us or yourself. You are a guest here” was another favourite.)

No, kids these days are wild. And I suppose some of us, “their elders,” will always worry about that.

The youth of today love luxury; they have bad manners and contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Youth are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up food at the table, and tyrannize their teachers. (Supposedly from Socrates as quoted in Plato’s “The Republic.” There is no firm attribution, though.)

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint (Hesiod, 8th century BC via google answers.)

Now I’m all for frivolity. Many consider my pursuit of an everyday elegance to be completely frivolous.

Even kids these days.

But I will do my best, each and every day, to remember that I am, willingly or not, a role model. During one of my jobs, I had a boss who had a great motto. It has stuck with me through many a year. I’ll leave you with it.

Never surrender the moral high-ground.

So endeth the screed. I’m off to finish reading this. Back with something useful tomorrow.

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14 Responses to Kids These Days

  1. Rick says:

    Here, here. Do today’s parents not care, not know, or too lazy to exert the effort? Unfortunately, none of the people who should read your blog will ever see it. They just don’t care.

  2. pvedesign says:

    Do not even get me started, but you did add fuel to poor etiquette today.
    We had an incident in our local schools and lack of tact and the lack or responsibility on the part of the student and the parents / adults is truly a scam. There is so much lack of respect in speech, delivery and body language. I feel sorry for the children as well as the poor canine and his ill mannered Master.

  3. LucyinStLou says:

    I do hope that your two year old is alright. Utterly amazing that parents would not express concern for another child! We also have noticed the ill mannered and ill dressed legions even in the finest restaurants and cultural events in town. Such as shame. As for lack of doggie clean up, it’s rampant in our neighborhood as well. My husband once ran an extra mile in a loop to do a quick clean up after running out of bags when walking our whippets. If only everyone else would carry a bag now and again, life would be much more pleasant.

  4. MC says:

    This post motivates my blog intention — more on that later, I hope.

    I’ve often said to my parents (and even quoted to girls while out last night), “The problem with you all insisting on manners in our behavior leaves us negotiating life among those who got a pass”

    I love the American Express magazine ad where Tina Fey is asked what her greatest accomplishment is: “My daughter says please and thank you,” she replied.

    Atta girl, Tina.

  5. Claire says:

    Well said!!!

    I must admit, parents today are one of the reasons that we are NOT having kids. Our kids would have manners, but their playmates would very likely not, & I don’t want to fight that battle day in & day out. Of course, we have about 10,000 other reasons for not having them, but things like you described make us very grateful for our choice almost every day.

    Our dogs are well-mannered, or rather, WE are when we are walking them. We always have at least one bag. Funny thing, though – our girls rarely consider doing anything that would make us use them. Yay!

  6. Columnist says:

    It’s almost spooky that you should write about this subject today. I have been wanting to rant about it for hours, and I just thought to myself that I really am becoming a grumpy old man. But I’m glad others see the point too. And you express it so succinctly in your second paragraph. Now I feel much better. Thank you!

  7. MC says:

    p.s. I meant to comment a while back that the They Might Be Giants cd is a great pick. My two love the tunes… and they don’t seem to get stuck on a loop in my head. Nothing like Ella Jenkins singing about trees when I’m trying to enjoy a cocktail with friends!

  8. I was just disciplining a 5 year old boy who was dropped (!) at the pool yesterday by his mother (she had a tennis match, clearly) who then proceeded to torment nearly every child in sight. On my way into the changing room I found a 10-year-old girl eating her lunch (horrors.) When asked why she confessed it was to escape this hellion. As you said, mine are not perfect by a long shot (witness the noodle/sword fight and turning the cup and straw dispenser into a craft area) but I’m there. The amusing thing is, it’s such a vicious cycle; I think they abandon them because they are so unpleasant to be around.

  9. Reggie says:

    When pigs reproduce their offspring is inevitably more pigs. Whether they are particularly piggy or not will depend to a certain degree on their environment and nurturing, but nature cannot be entirely transcended, at least from one generation to the next. No offense to swine intended.

  10. CallMeAl says:

    Ah, your topic raises some well-worn, but extremely trenchant issues of responsible parenting. I’m reminded of the rant, “It takes a license to operate a car, but absolutely no testing or qualifications are required to have a kid.” Of course, nobody is perfect and everyone of us could stand to improve (I have 7 and 9 year old boys to remind me). But rather than complaining about the weather a la’ Mark Twain’s quote, I try to light my solitary candle in the darkness by observing and encouraging good manners, starting with rules for my boys.

    The components of today’s childrens’ (and parents’) lack of manners seem to be the perfect storm of circumstances. In part, the American generational fabric may be blamed, as formerly-rebellious boomers pass on their disregard for authority’s ground rules. But keep in mind this is the same generation which has brought us “helicopter parents,” who are intent on micromanaging every part of their children’s extremely structured activities, especially organized sports. Exhausted by, and possibly doubting the wisdom of, this effort, the parents sometimes relax and abdicate parental authority in situations where (barely) controlled mayhem is encouraged.

    Additionally, places like Children’s Museums, and Chuck-E-Cheese (shudder), provide new dynamics previously uncharted in the American experience: enclosed, interior spaces with unstructured activities focused chiefly on the child’s entertainment. New parents or those unprepared for this milieu sometimes feel undignified joining in, or seek to avoid the helicopter moniker. Throw in the issue of diagnosed, and over-diagnosed, ADHD issues, and you have a real minefield to successfully bring your progeny through to responsible adulthood. This parenting thing is a constant balancing effort, and like Jason Robards said in “Parenthood,” “And it’s like Aunt Edna’s a**….it goes on forever.” Like the movie’s implied conclusion, sometimes all you can do is try your hardest to do the right thing, hope for the best, and try to enjoy the ride.

    The most important aspect of teaching our children good manners is that they bring their own reward, and are not a badge of social superiority. As the described social lubricant, they may serve to open doors, but also enrich both one’s life and others’. Dogs and monkeys can also be taught “manners,” but lacking appropriate meaning, it remains a sham demonstration. By comparison, children can gain the deeper lesson why of manners are good and desirable, and only by voluntarily accepting their individual charges to light a candle in the darkness can they pass it on by example.

  11. Wow! I touched a nerve. Thank you all for your very thoughtful responses and empathy. We shall soldier on together you and I.

    MC, thanks for the CD rec. I think I’ll invest.

    P.S. Did you ever have one of those friends about your own age who you just knew was going to make a great grandfather? You know, the one who probably saved you from yourself once or twice a year? Meet my friend Al, above.

    PPS. Columnist, ah, the dangers of working without an editor… I wrote a novel when a postcard would’ve done.

  12. style court says:

    Chris — your boss lived by brilliant words 🙂

  13. TIG says:

    Completely agree with Courtney — brilliant words indeed. Often rail about the lack of manners encountered in everyday life — wonderful to see that I am not alone in this beautifully written, pensive and yes, elegant post.

  14. Eric says:

    Wow – yesterday I was bombarded with ill mannered children at the Air and Space Museum. I was thankful my children showed restraint, although we did have to remind them at times. But there is the key component missing for many…parental involvement.

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