Where Oh Where Has Civility Gone?

Welcome back to the school year! Hopefully your summer provided a much-needed break from the fast-paced school year, but now we should all be back in the swing of things once again. I am an educational consultant and academic test prep specialist who works with middle and high schoolers. I also own a tutoring and test prep company in Los Angeles called Generation Think. My tutors at Generation Think work one-on-one with students in grades K-12, and about this time of year, life is busy for us! We are swamped seven days a week with test prep and tutoring sessions, and academics remain at the forefront of much of what we do. With that said though, I would also like to address a topic that I think we all need to be aware of as this school year starts; a topic that is equally as important as academic achievement and intellectual development. That topic is civility. I have already heard from many of our students references to “mean girls,” intimidating boys, and cyber bullies. It pains me to hear students talk about this pervasive meanness not only because I feel their hurt when they are the recipients of it, but also because it illuminates the fact that in this day and age, general kindness must be taught to our children. It is no longer an automatic supposition that our students know how to be thoughtful and sensitive to one another. Civility is a lesson that requires constant and repetitive teaching.

Just like we encourage our students to stretch their brain muscle, we also have to encourage them to stretch their heart muscle. As parents and educators, it is our job to model compassion and teach our students civility. With so much focus in the 21st century on competitive advantage, over scheduling, and integrated technology, we are teaching students to value highly winning, rushing, and real-time. It is no wonder that our students today are desensitized and dehumanized to a point. It is much easier to write a nasty Facebook posting about someone and to hide behind a computer than it is to engage in direct communication. It is much easier to spread gossip about another student than it is to reach out and show a little empathy to that student. These all have become easy things to do because children are not being held accountable for their actions, and the quality of civility is not being placed as a esteemed expectation in a child’s value system. Children are not innately malevolent to one another — it is a learned practice attributed to the value system they witness in the home, in the classroom, and in society. There are things you can do at home though, to encourage a sense of kindness and respect in your children. Child psychologists say that the family dinner table and “hang out” time on the weekends are prime times to employ teachable moments. Try these few strategies at home to help teach your children the importance of kindness.

  • What goes around comes around. Remember this adage? Teach your children that the energy and actions they put out in the universe to others always find a way back. In other words, what they put out (both negative or positive) to others, will likely be returned.
  • Teach your child how to apologize. Children who cannot apologize freely are children who do not take responsibility for their actions. Apologizing equals accountability, but no ungracious apology will do. Teach your children genuine accountability in an apology and not just lip service.
  • Each day encourage your child to do something kind for someone else and then have your child share about it at the dinner table. While sitting around the dinner table, make your first question of the night, “What did you do today for others, and how were you compassionate to someone other than yourself?” Once you pose this question, then “pass the potatoes and broccoli please” can follow. Make the topic of goodwill to others just as important of a discussion as math test scores, English paper grades, and soccer game outcomes.
  • Have a ZERO tolerance policy when it comes to your child being a bully or mean girl/boy. Generally, children who are the bullies or mean kids have been able to get away with that behavior in the home. These students are rude to their parents, act entitled and spoiled, and lack a general sense of compassion. Guess what Mom and Dad, this is partly your fault. You have seen this behavior in your child, but you let it slide for whatever reason. Your “letting it slide” reaction gave your child permission to act this way. The minute you see your child exhibiting this sort of behavior, you must use this as a teachable moment. If that doesn’t work, it is also the time to lower the boom and make your child understand the unacceptable nature of the behavior. Sometimes that means taking away play dates, computer privileges, etc. Sometimes the mixture of discussing the wrongs of the action and adding consequences to it are what she/he needs to fully “get” the intended civility lesson.
  • Involve your child in some sort of public service. Children of all ages can learn to give back. We need to teach our children to be supportive of others regardless of one’s socio-economic status, physical traits, behavioral idiosyncrasies, individual beliefs, or learning challenges and differences. Doing for others helps build the traits of tolerance and acceptance of those who differ from us.

I know the “To Do List” for parenting today is long, but this is the most important thing to add to that list. It is a shame that we are a culture who is raising children who value winning over integrity , who lack resourcefulness in the real world (vs. the techno world), and who fall short of the ability to show goodwill to others. The good news is that we can change this. I believe every parent needs to ask him and herself, “What do I place value in on a daily basis that my child sees? Is it science homework and soccer goals, or is it compassion and caring?” It seems that in today’s world, we need to make The Golden Rule once again the rule of thumb and not the exception to the rule.

- By Kelly Trotter King


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