Thursday, October 28, 2010

My kids will never be that rude...or will they?

This week I had the pleasure of meeting a close friend for dinner at a fairly nice restaurant. I arrived first and was seated across from a family of four - mom, dad, son of about 16 and daughter of about 19. We were the only parties in the establishment and so I couldn't help overhearing their conversation. I surmised that they were out to celebrate something and sat squeamishly as the parents desperately and without much success, to engage the kids in conversation. The son seemed to realize that small talk was the price of entry for a nice steak but the daughter was having none of it and made sure everyone at the table (and beyond) was aware that she had better things to do. After a few minutes, her disgruntled parents, resigned to their fate, gave up and she pulled out a cell phone and from that point forward, did not lift her eyes from the screen for the duration of the dinner, even continuing to text between mouthfuls.

Of course, my brief encounter with this family lacked any context at all so I have no idea what, if anything, was behind the daughter's extremely offensive behaviour but I responded in the classic parental way, by silently declaring that "no child of mine will ever behave that way, adding in "especially when I'm buying them a nice dinner" for good measure.

The no child of mine declaration is an occupational hazard of parenting and it's not a phrase that should be tossed around lightly. After all, when dealing with another human, even one over which you exert considerable influence, it's impossible to predict their every action into the future. I have had to eat my words countless times as previous declarations were proven unattainable. For example, I proudly announced that no child of mine was ever going to eat junk food, become addicted to bad cartoons or forget to say thank you when someone gave them a gift, but they did. The sentiment comes from a good place - the desire to raise children of whom you can be proud and young adults who will go out into the world as productive, well-mannered members of society. But as any potentially perfect parent has discovered, easier said than done. While we have a great deal of influence over our children, particularly in their earlier years, our words of wisdom don't always sink in, please and thank yous are easily forgotten in public and there is an element of nature versus nurture in all of us.

So, we can't always control behaviour, especially from those sullen, withdrawn teenagers that we all were at one point. But we can set rules and expectations for behaviour both inside the house and out in public and reinforce them in a way that is appropriate for their age. And I think, when it comes to teaching your children manners, starting early, providing constant reminders and never giving up, will eventually result in polite young adults. In our house, nothing can be brought to the dinner table besides food and the tools required to enjoy it and that applies to the adults as well as the kids. It is my hope that, if I am unrelenting about these things early in life, they will become ingrained and I won't have to beg them to refrain from using their cell phones at the dinner table ten years from now.

But will I succeed? Perhaps the poor parents who were sitting next to me tried in vain to establish the same kinds of guidelines and after years of repeating the same mantra, they just gave in with a "kids today" shrug. Perhaps they shared my mortification but decided to ignore their daughter's behaviour on that evening when the only alternative was to have a public argument or risk ruining the outing for everyone, including their son, who was behaving appropriately.

With kids I've learned, never say never but do your best. I'd love to hear from parents of teens if you struggle with this, if you have an issue with it or if it doesn't bother you.

By the way, my friend and I had a lovely time together and got so engrossed in a stimulating face-to-face conversation that neither of us checked our mobile devices once.

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