This opinion has been submitted anonymously, because the author doesn’t quite know how to tell her friends that she thinks their children are rude – or that they’re bad parents for not teaching their children good manners…
I walk up to my friend – we’ve known each other for 12 years now. I kiss his cheek, I hug him, I kneel down and say hello to his five-year old son – who keeps his thumb firmly in his mouth, stares at me, and then turns his head away, just like he does every time I see him. “Oh,” says his father. “ He’s not in a good mood today,” condoning his child’s rudeness.
Not unlike another couple we know – whose daughter, aged nearly five, is yet to make eye contact with me or greet me directly, even though we see the family at least once a month. “She’s shy today because she was in trouble this morning,” says mom, when I make yet another failed attempt to engage with her daughter, as if the child’s rudeness is an exceptional circumstance and not a regular one.
Is it too demanding of me to expect people to teach their children basic manners and etiquette?
Please don’t misunderstand me here – I completely get that three, four, and five-year old children don’t automatically know that it’s important to greet someone when you see them, and bid them farewell when you leave. I don’t blame the children, at all. I blame the parents, whose job it is to teach their offspring about the basic tenets of being part of society.
Yes, I know that your child is the centre of your universe and can do no wrong in your eyes – and that you maybe have more sympathy when your child has had a bad day than I do. But has your child really had a bad day, every time I’ve seen you – so bad that you think it inappropriate to teach them simple manners when I try to greet them?
And what does it say of your opinion of me (and of any other adult that your child engages with) that you don’t think your child should respond to my greeting? After all, who is in charge in any situation – the child who has yet to learn manners, or the parent who has yet to take the trouble to teach them?
Beyond that, what does it teach your child – in these years when he or she is most receptive to learning – when you condone their rudeness if they’re ‘having a bad day’? How is that going to equip them to engage with the world at large when they’re older – or are you suddenly going to wake up one day and wonder just where that rude, disrespectful teenager living down the passage came from? How are you THEN going to teach them that it’s all of a sudden the time to have some respect, when you’ve been allowing them to be rude, dismissive and disrespectful to all and sundry for their whole lives to date?
I have no doubt that I will not be immune from teenage angst when my children, now aged between 3 and 8, reach That Age, but I can tell you this: I have taught them, from the time they started talking, to greet other people – at the very least with a hello, ideally with a hug, or for my son, a handshake.
When we leave company, they say goodbye, and ‘thank you’ if we have enjoyed someone’s hospitality. My children are welcomed wherever we go – socially and in other contexts too. They are confident when they meet new people, and strike up conversations with cashiers, petrol attendants and other queuing shoppers wherever we go, making these otherwise mundane experiences all the more pleasant with the exchange of smiles and chats.
I have no doubt that this friendly confidence and these simple good manners are going to help them go far one day. I wish I could say the same for the other children I’ve spoken of here…