A few months ago, I became a new grandmother! While I'm overwhelmed with joy, I'm also thinking about the world our dear little angel is inheriting. Will she be strong enough to resist becoming rude, self-serving or mean-spirited under the pressure of her peers? And what can I do to support her development towards higher ideals? While it would be fabulous if she aspires to lofty goals of service, I'd be really happy for my grandchild to simply be kind, compassionate, respectful and grateful.
Our media often highlights the worst situations involving young people -- like school shootings, harassing of classmates with disabilities or shaming peers on the Internet with devastating consequences. Thankfully, sometimes the media also shares stories about impressive children -- like the Michigan boys football team who made sure their special needs teammate scored a touchdown, the Cincinnati girl who donates dolls for patients in a children's hospital and a Texas boy who gave up his hard-earned Play Station 4 money to buy smoke detectors for the needy in his community.
Yet when kids push past you in a doorway, nearly run you over with their skateboards or start texting in the middle of a conversation, it makes you wonder: What happened to the idea of young people walking the little old lady (not so little in my case) across the street or helping a neighbor with his groceries?
When they don't say as much as "thank you" when you do something nice for them or "sorry" when they do something wrong, you probably think about their parents. While parents should do a better job of raising their kids, sometimes they just don't know how or can't for various reasons. And many parents who are trying hard find they are up against community and media norms sweeping their children in another direction. Peer pressure is powerful.
In thinking about these issues, what came to my mind was a program a friend of mine developed for children (K-12) about manners and ethics called Master Keys for Kids. When these young people learn about why it can be rude to have a cell phone conversation where others can't help but hear it or what it means to open a door or pull out a chair for someone, they change. For many, no one has taken the time to teach them, and because they are together, the pressure of the group moves them in a constructive direction.
It is nothing sudden or dramatic, but each stage builds on the last one so that by the end of the course, these young people have a sense of things, like why it's important to write a thank-you note and what they get out of being considerate of others. Most of all, the kids love what they are learning, and the parents are amazed and thrilled at how their children bring the lessons home.
Bullying behaviors do not last long when a child's peer group appreciates the importance of respecting themselves and others. And when they see contrary examples on TV or in a movie, they can call it out for what it is instead of seeing it as a model to emulate. They just need to be taught, and we all need to be their models and teachers.
If more parents would make time to learn what they can do to help their children (and perhaps themselves) with manners and ethics, especially since online resources are now so readily available, we can all become part of the community that helps to positively influence all of "our" children.
With enough of us demonstrating and upholding standards of kindness and respect, when my daughter's little bundle of joy is old enough to play at the park, I won't be looking around asking what's the matter with kids today, I'll be appreciating how great they are!