Unfortunately, I think we are beginning to raise a lot of Eddie Haskell’s. I love to meet a child who has been taught good manners by his or her parents. Let’s face it, even marginal manners in a child (or an adult, but I digress!) are becoming more rare in our age of flash point anger, entitlement and a lack of personal responsibility. I applaud any parent who has taken the time and effort to insist that their children say “please” or hold open doors for other people.
Good manners are only half of the battle. In fact recently, I have seen where good manners were actually used to mask deplorable behavior. I was chaperoning a group of teen girls. Most of them were a delight (or at least bearable). Several of the girls, however, had me wanting to call them Eddie after only a day. They were prompt with their “yes ma’ams”, the hallmark of good Southern manners. Behind the scenes though, they were pulling miniature rebellions against the rules and had security called on their hotel room on more than one night for keeping people awake with their screaming.
I began to think about traditional manners training. Often we are so focused on the correct words or what they are doing with their elbows, we forget to teach the purpose of good manners. What we are really trying to do is to teach our children to be loving and considerate of the feelings of other people. At the very root of good manners is what we often call the golden rule. Jesus told us we are to treat others as we would want to be treated.
All of the thank you notes in the world don’t fulfill God’s commands if we are secretly (or not so secretly) rebelling against those same people behind the scenes. Saying “yes sir” to someone and then talking ugly about them to others, is also missing the mark. We need to constantly remind our children that how we act in front of others and how we treat them when they are not looking is a package deal. How we and our children treat other people, especially when they aren’t looking, is our witness to others. If we claim to be Christians, but are polite to people’s faces and inconsiderate behind their backs, we are giving non-Christians a very mixed message. That sort of behavior may be what non-Christians refer to when they say Christians are hypocritical.
As with everything though, there is an even deeper level to teach your children. Lip service to God’s rules can hide rebellion. We all need to remember that we need to try and keep our words and our actions in sync with God’s words as much as we possibly can. Pretending to be respectful, while plotting how you are going to break the rules would make Eddie Haskell proud. I really don’t think that God would be quite as happy with your child’s “good manners” and yet “hidden” rebellion.
I don’t have all of the answers, but I do have some ways to start encouraging compassion and consideration in your children’s behavior and more importantly in their hearts. I’ll share those with you in my next post. In the meantime, feel free to share what has worked with you or your own children.