Manners: Why Our Kids Need to Learn Them

I went to Catholic school. We had to, of course, wear our uniforms. Starched white shirts, pleated burgundy plaid skirts and burgundy sweaters with the top button buttoned, and the collar of the shirt pulled out over the sweater. We had navy blue school shoes that my mother bought at a special store on 7th Avenue between 23rd and 24th street. I remember they were expensive. Our fingernails and bangs had to be trimmed regularly or we were sent home.

The nuns told us we had to be “presentable.”

We went to mass every Wednesday morning, and we sang three hymns. The opening hymn, the offertory hymn, and the closing hymn. After mass – my 7th-grade teacher, Sister Ana Veronica would scold us for not singing loudly enough, for not pronouncing our words correctly – for not praising the Lord triumphantly. That night we would have to write all three hymns 10 times each. I know “Here I am Lord,” “Be Not Afraid” and “Ave Maria” better than any other songs, EVER.

In the mornings, we had to sit at our desk, with good posture and hands folded until our teacher entered the classroom. When she did, we had to say in unison, “Good morning Sister Anne.” She would reply, “Good morning children. Please stand for morning prayer.” We’d all stand and push our chairs in and pray three prayers. Usually, we prayed “The Our Father,” “The Hail Mary,” and “The Act of Contrition.” Then we said “The Pledge of Allegiance” with our hands over our hearts and sang a patriotic song like “This Land was Made for You and Me.” Sister Anne would then say, “You may be seated.”

My mother is Irish Catholic as well. And we didn’t go anywhere where we didn’t say hello to the adults when we walked into a room. When we were really little, to teach us, she would say, “Say hello to Nana. Ask her how she is today.” And so we said what she told us to say until we said it ourselves naturally. My mother taught us not to push passed people but to say, “Excuse me.” And wait for the person to move. We also always had to say “Please and Thank You.”

There was no excuses in my house like, “She’s shy,” or “She’s only a little girl.” My mother didn’t care how young you were or if you were shy. My mother wanted us to say “Hello” to everyone enthusiastically just as much as Sister Anne wanted us to praise the Lord triumphantly. This was all serious and real. And if you didn’t want to do these things there was a good chance of a spanking. A real consequence.

What do I think of that kind of upbringing? I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s great. I think it made me who I am and taught me respect and reverence. “Yes, sir.” “No, sir.” Absolutely.

My father taught us to look people in the eye when we spoke to them. My mother threatened, “You better listen to me.” Her favorite reason was, “Because I’m the mother that’s why.” Amazing. Perfect. I am so glad that was her reason – it was reason enough and then some.

My friends were raised this way. The schools insisted on good behavior. I think it was the best way to go. All of it formed character in little me and I appreciate who I was then and even more who I am now because of all of their hard work. They worked hard to teach me how to be a decent person. They didn’t have to. It would have been easier to just let us be. It’s hard to raise children and to teach them right from wrong. Children crave discipline. They, literally, do not know right from wrong and need examples to show them. What kind of example are you?

The way I see it is – most kids today do not even look up from their iPads to say hello to me when I walk into their houses. Not many of my friends insist their children greet me. Most kids take the gift I give them and rip it open. They do not say thank you, and they do not open the card first.

I have met very few children who ask me how I am doing today and the ones that have – I remember their names because I was so surprised.

It’s rare to hear a child say to an adult, “Excuse me.” Actually, I don’t think I know one child that has said “Excuse me, “ to his or her mother to alert the parent that they would like to say something.

There is no more prayer in school. I don’t know any children who sing hymns and that’s a shame because “Be Not Afraid,” has brought great comfort to me in times of sadness and fear.

Manners are so important. They’re important because they teach children how to respect others. Manners teach children to respect themselves and they show an interest that the parent takes in the child’s upbringing.

My children are not perfect, but they are respectful. Rude children do not go over well with me. I’m not interested in them. They bother me, and I don’t hide the fact that I’m not fond of them. I’ve had friends that I no longer have because their children were rude and disrespectful and the parents weren’t doing anything about it. So, those friendships ended. Some have said that I am too hard on my kids. Some have given me the eye – as if to say – “Yikes. Don’t you think that’s a lot for a child?” No. I don’t. Children are resilient and have the capacity to learn over 7 languages by the age of 3. They can certainly learn three English words by that same age – and those words would be “Please,” and “Thank You.”

Photo Credit: © Elizabeth Regen All Rights Reserved

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