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Civility

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<!– Teen Trends Newsletter - Discover the latest teens trends before they happen! –><!– Stacey DeWitt on Real Parenting –>
Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 | CWK Producer

“Sometimes we get recognized for bad behavior and in a competitive, complex world where everybody is sort of vying for attention, and people are accepting bad behavior and seeing people get recognized for bad behavior, it’s normal for children unless they are taught otherwise, to follow that.”

– Stacey DeWitt, President, Connect with Kids

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Serena Williams curses at a line judge, Congressman Joe Wilson yells at the President, a rap star interrupts an award show.  And, at the same time, the Parents Television Council reports that children today use more coarse language and cuss words than ever before.  Is there a connection?

Fifteen-year-old Michelle was constantly in trouble at school.  “I just had no respect for anyone or anything,” she says.  “I definitely wasn’t a nice person.”

She says nearly every day she was sent to the principal’s office.  And the first impression she left on Assistant Principal Eric King: “Nasty, just, she was a freshman girl who I think was referred the first time for cursing in the hall, yelling actually curse words in the hall.” 

King says he talked to her parents at least 15 times on the phone.  Her father, Al Di Tizio, remembers, “He said, ‘Mr. DiTizio, Michelle’s language is just out of control’.”

A tennis star curses, a Congressman interrupts the President, a rap star steals the microphone.  And, all the while, experts say, kids are watching.  “Sometimes we get recognized for bad behavior and in a competitive, complex world where everybody is sort of vying for attention, and people are accepting bad behavior and seeing people get recognized for bad behavior, it’s normal for children unless they are taught otherwise, to follow that,” explains Stacey DeWitt, President of Connect with Kids.

In order to raise respectful and courteous kids, DeWitt says parents need to ask themselves a couple of questions: “A – are we teaching our children about that, are we actually sitting down and actually talking to them about how they should behave… and B – are we modeling it. Are we teaching them to manage their behavior and are we showing them how to manage behavior because we manage our own?”

Michelle was suspended and got detention, but school staff never yelled at her, never insulted her, never said she was a “bad” person.  And today she is on the honor roll and no longer in trouble.  Why?

“Probably the look on their faces most of the time,” Michelle says.  “Because it was just like a look of shame and I was tired of, you know, having people look down upon me. And I was tired of being like a failure, you know?”

“Deep down she started to say ‘my goodness it’s going to be easier for me to just be good’ or basically to just live up to the expectations,” says Assistant Principal King.

It just got easier to be good.

What We Need To Know

Does today’s younger generation have less respect than past generations? According to a recent poll, the answer is “yes.” Consider the following results:

  • Nearly 75 percent of Americans thought manners were worse today than 20 or 30 years ago.
  • Those surveyed primarily placed the blame on inadequate parenting.
  • People also cited movies and television shows as influencing children to be less respectful.

According to Sara Alice Tucker, a fourth grade teacher in Cornelia, Ga., school curriculum can incorporate learning about respect and manners. Some suggestions include:

  • Write/publish original books or short stories about good manners.
  • Create “problem manners” stories for the rest of the class to read and role-play.
  • Design cards that cover the proper use of eating utensils.
  • Make videos of people properly greeting and introducing others.
  • Take digital pictures of children using good manners, then add text to turn them into posters.

By the time children enter grade school, the groundwork for how they will respond to authority figures has already been laid. That’s not to say that children can’t correct bad behavior or change their attitudes, but their home situation plays a significant role in their character development. Experts at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia have created a list of ways to help prevent behavioral problems:

  • Establish “together time,” including a regular weekly routine for doing something special with your child, even if it’s just going out for ice cream.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask where, what, who, when — where your kids are going, who they’ll be with, when they’ll be home. Get to know your kid’s friends – and their parents.   
  • Try to be home when your child gets home after school.
  • Eat together often. Meals are a great time to talk about the day, bond, and build relationships.
  • Become a better listener. Ask and encourage questions. Ask for your child’s input about family decisions. When you show that you’re willing to listen, your child will feel more comfortable about opening up to you.
  • Don’t react in a way that will cut off further discussion. If your child says things that challenge or shock you, turn them into a calm discussion.
  • Be a day-to-day example of your value system. Show the compassion, honesty, generosity and openness you want your child to have.
  • Know that there is no such thing as “do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to your kids.
  • Examine your own behavior.  Make sure it is consistent with what you want to teach your kids.
  • Reward good behavior consistently and immediately. Expressions of love, appreciation and thanks go a long way – even for kids who think they’re too old for hugs.
  • Accentuate the positive. Emphasize what your children do right. Restrain the urge to be critical. Affection and respect will reinforce good behavior (and can change bad behavior.)  Embarrassment or uneasiness won’t.
  • Create rules. Discuss in advance the consequences of breaking rules. Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off easy. Don’t impose harsh or new, unexpected punishments, either.
  • Set a curfew. Enforce it strictly, but be ready to negotiate on special occasions.
  • Have kids check in at regular times.
  • Call the parents of a child who is having a home party to make sure that there will be adult supervision. On the night of the party, don’t be afraid to stop by to say hello (and make sure that a parent is home).
  • Listen to your instincts. Don’t be afraid to intervene if your gut tells you something is wrong.
  • Let your children know how much you care, especially when they are having problems.
  • Keep a positive attitude about your ability to be a parent. 
  • Take care of yourself. Meet your needs for support with other adults so you can establish healthy parent-child boundaries.
  • Take time to teach your children values while they are young. Live your own values every day.
  • Make your home a safe, secure and positive environment. Provide appropriate privacy for each family member.
  • Get involved in your child’s school, your neighborhood and your community. You are responsible for parenting your child — not teachers and other authority figures in your child’s life.
  • Set clear rules and limits for your children. However, as your children grow, be flexible and adjust the rules and limits accordingly. Don’t forget to help children learn to set their own limits, too. 
  • Follow through with consequences for your children’s misbehavior. Be certain the consequences are immediate and relate to the misbehavior, not your anger.
  • Let your children take responsibility for their own actions. They will learn quickly if misbehavior results in unpleasant natural consequences.
  • Be a guide for your children. Offer to help with homework, in social situations and with concerns about the future. Help them direct and redirect their energy and to understand and express their feelings.
  • You are separate from your child. Let go of the responsibility for all your children’s feelings or outcomes of their decisions. Your children’s successes or failures are theirs, not yours.
  • Create a foundation of mutual appreciation, support and respect; this is the basis of your relationship into their adult years.

Resources

  • Teenagers Today
  • Education World
  • Friends Hospital

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