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What Happened to Teaching Kids Manners and Respect?

78753859My crew loved the new Paddington Bear movie — yet, am I alone? — there was one element of the film I couldn’t stand: The way the Brown children talked to their parents.

The tweenage daughter in the movie, Judy, expresses her feelings about her parents in no uncertain terms. She won’t introduce her fledgling boyfriend to the family because in her opinion, mom and dad are “weird.” She rolls her eyes to no end at her father’s ridiculous worries and her mother’s kookiness. “You’re so annoying!” she says, a sentiment her younger brother Jonathan echoes at least once early in the film.

By the end of the movie, the daughter embraces the word “weird,” just as she comes to love Paddington and have a new appreciation of her parents. All well and good. But I couldn’t watch her sass her parents and give them such terrible attitude without getting angry at Mr. and Mrs. Brown. I wanted them to directly confront the girl and say, “Don’t call people ‘weird,’ That’s not nice!” Or, “Don’t roll your eyes at me, young lady. That’s inappropriate.” Or, “Never tell an adult they’re annoying. That’s a very rude thing to say.”

To the kids in the theater, the movie showed that being a brat is acceptable. And this really bothered me. “That’s because you’re an old school parent,” a friend of mine said. “You think kids should have manners and respect authority.”

The latter is definitely true, but does that make me old school? Is the new style of parenting one that says it’s OK for kids to talk down to adults? Many parents want their kids to speak to them as if they’re friends, but I wouldn’t want my son to call his friends annoying or take an “uh, duh!” tone with them either. Mr. Brown, scared his kids are going to get hurt or fail, while simultaneously allowing them to ridicule him, strikes me as a common type in America today. The kind of parent who cedes control to the child. Often, this relinquishing of authority comes in the name of having a democratic family. But, despite what you see in Washington, a functioning democracy requires having a fundamental respect for other people’s points of view. That’s not what I see with how many kids speak to their parents these days. I fear we’re raising a generation of jerks.

We should be teaching our kids to speak respectfully to others, and that starts with us. They should also have regard for authority figures like principals or teachers, whether or not they agree with those figures and their rules. (I have no problem with dissension, as long as its done civilly.) Because what’s going to happen to a young woman when, in her first job, she greets her boss’s request for an expense report with an eye roll and exaggerated sigh of annoyance?

Furthermore, I’m not just a parent, I’m a human being. I deserve respect just as much as anyone else, and that means not insulting me. I am also a pretty interesting and cultured guy, and just because my son doesn’t agree with my taste in music or television or food or whatever, doesn’t give him (or anyone) the right to be rude about it. Society is built on good manners. Disagreeing, but not in disrespectful ways.

My son is only five-and-a-half, but already I’ve had to address this issue with him. When watching the 1980’s cartoon series Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Iceman skates to save Spiderman, saying “I’ve come to help my chum because he was dumb!” Felix thought this was very funny, and kept repeating it. My wife and I told him to stop. Calling other people dumb is not a very nice thing to do, especially if that person is your chum, we explained. So Spiderman made a mistake. We all do! Offer your help, but don’t sully it with a barbed comment.

It doesn’t take much to stand up for yourself, parents. I’m sure you’d get angry if someone on the street rolled their eyes at you, or called you “annoying” or “stupid.” Correct your children. Don’t let them treat anyone, least of all you, like a jerk. Paddington Bear would have been just as effective a movie if they had toned down the children’s attitude, or, better still, given the parents the opportunity to say “cut it out.” Instead, I sat there feeling like the parents were push-overs and the kids very badly-mannered. That clouded my opinion of what was otherwise a good movie, just as I think less of even the smartest, most talented kid who lacks the basic human decency to respect his or her parents.

Image source: Thinkstock

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