Years ago, general opinion held that children were to be seen, but not heard. By the time I was in elementary school, children were allowed, even encouraged, to join in adult conversation, but only when it was our turn and only when we had proven ourselves ready to participate.
Children who blurted and interrupted were gently corrected the moment that they spoke out of turn. Those who boasted and exaggerated were held accountable for their words and asked to prove them. Those who were disrespectful to adults and other authority figures were made to apologize, and those who boldly claimed to know a thing were often asked, “Says who?”
Not so long ago, adults accepted communal responsibility for the manners and communication skills of next generation, assuming correctly that parents not only wanted help, but expected it.
The result? Children learned valuable lessons:
- Wait your turn.
- Consider your audience.
- Think before you speak.
- Tell the truth.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- The world does not revolve around you.
- Some things are better left unsaid.
We didn’t—and still don’t—get it right all of the time, but, at the very least, we have within us a sense of what is and is not acceptable coming from the mouth of a child. We know what good manners are whether or not we choose to use them.
I’m not so sure that this generation is growing up with the same understanding. Why? It’s not that their parents aren’t trying. I think it’s because their parents don’t have the same back-up system that our parents did.
For a number of reasons, people these days are afraid to correct other people’s children even if they need it. At the same time, children are holding private conversations free of the telephone cords that tethered us and shared phone lines that taught us to choose our words carefully.
Also, teenagers are building their own platforms on social media. Uncensored, they speak with voices they never had to earn, collecting like’s and comments from their peers like after-show bouquets.
The solution? Parents, invite help from those you trust. Make sure that they know they have your permission to speak into your child’s life. Everyone else, be patient. Be compassionate. Be kind, but speak up IF the situation calls for it AND you can do it in love.