My husband and I were waiting at a traffic light, watching two 20-somethings cross the street in front of our car. As they slowly moved through the stripes, they glared at us and gave us a very insulting gesture. Why? We were just sitting quietly waiting for the light to change and the space in front of our car to clear. What brought this on?
Since this is not the first time in recent months that we have come across aggressively rude youths on the streets we could not help but wonder where this “I owe you nothing” and “I dare you” attitude is coming from. We certainly do not like having strangers treat us rudely. It made us wonder what part of our society is fostering such belligerent young adults. Where have the smiles gone and the, “May I help you?” attitude that I remember from my childhood. (I remember a bus driver once waiting for me while I ran into the house to get something I forgot.) How do we instill values of caring, compassion, and industry in our youth?
We know that manners start with training at home and I can only wonder about the family life of these abusive street youths. Did their parents yell or hit them, put them in the corner or their bedroom for hours, give them hated chores as way of punishment, or did they just ignore their bad behavior? Children can be so very self-centered, at times mean, and yes, they do need disciplining, but with a bit of forethought it is possible to teach compassion without having to resort to punishment. There is no need for rough parental responses but it is important to pay attention to manners. By creating clever, fun opportunities it is possible to teach good behavior without lifting a heavy hand.
My younger sister was an impolite eater who used her fingers instead of a fork. She did not respond to requests to change her habits and resented my comments. So, I bought her white gloves to wear during meals and made a game of seeing if she could eat without soiling the gloves. The game worked. She got the idea and became more conscious of her eating habits.
A private high school I know gives every entering freshman a horse whose care is his or her responsibility for four years. The very wealthy, often spoiled children who are enrolled in this school quickly realize that care for a living creature takes time and effort. It does not take long to learn that if the horse is not fed, the stall not cleaned, or the animal not groomed that the health of the horse suffers. These children learn to love their animals while enjoying the sport of horseback riding.
It is not necessary to go to a private school to experience responsibility for another creature’s life. My neighbor has pet chickens. The children clean the cages, feed the chickens and enjoy eating their eggs. They have even taught the chickens how to jump on command. It is funny to watch their family chase their pets throughout the neighborhood when they escape their coop.
My granddaughter participated in a training program and volunteered to bring animals to retirement centers. From this experience, she became closer and more responsible to her pet and, at the same time, learned about needs of older people. She had pleasure from seeing that her good deeds could bring a smile to someone else’s face.
When my children were young we had a rotating menagerie of gerbils, fish, dogs, birds, and cats. Even though my kids were required to participate in their daily care, these animals did require quite a bit of time on my part when my children were young but the effort was well worth it. Pets have played a very important role in the social development of my offspring who continue to have animals in their adult lives.
We are the adults and if we set the proper example, we have every right to expect our children will behave in a civil manner both at home and away. Positive reinforcement and educational activities puts the child in a position of caring and compassion.