Where Did Our Manners Go?

            Now I’m going to sound like a grumpy senior:  “Why are kids today so rude?  Were they raised by wolves??”  I’ve been reading another blog (http://www.danoah.com/) in which the author wrote of his painful experiences as a bullied child.  This opened a floodgate of replies, over 3,000, from readers with their own horrendous experiences.  And the most heart-breaking aspect of their stories is that adults—teachers, parents, bus drivers, coaches—often witnessed the bullying and did nothing, reinforcing the child’s belief that they deserved brutal treatment and were worthless.   From only 38 or those 3,000 replies, it is clear that many, many children and teens want to die, and many have had unsuccessful suicide attempts.  While we worry about Asian flu, Lyme disease and football concussions, we may be ignoring the largest threat to children’s health, and certainly to their mental health. 

            It’s possible that bullying was this bad when I was growing up in the 50s, but I really don’t think so.  The bullies were pretty well-known and usually came from very difficult family situations, where “they never learned any better.”  Most of us knew we had better be very careful with our words, let alone actions, because any adult within earshot would be on the phone to our parents before we got home.  And adults were not afraid to correct other people’s children when they were out of line.  That’s one reason it was safe to roam the neighborhood with your friends; not only would the neighbors watch out for you, but they would make sure you all behaved, too!

            Now I would be reluctant to correct someone else’s child, for fear of their reaction.  Many children feel a sense of entitlement, believing they can count on a parent to bail them out of trouble.  More commonly, they just have no one watching, no one paying attention, so it doesn’t seem to matter what they do.  One important lesson I’ve learned from this discussion is that bullies also feel worthless and unloved.  Often, they have been bullied themselves and just turn the frustration and anger on someone else.

            How does this relate to our future as a society?  We can’t afford to throw our children away.  We need the best efforts and creativity of every person to face the challenges of this century.  We need politicians who will stop slinging mud long enough to listen to their public.  We need journalists who will doggedly pursue and tell the truth rather than chase ratings.  We need parents who will insist on civil behavior and language from their children, and who practice what they preach.  And we need the courage to speak up when anyone is being treated disrespectfully.  It starts with you.  It starts with me.