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The world was better when children were taught respect, good manners

When I was a child, my parents found fairly frequent reason to tell me that I was a small fish in a big pond. Sometimes, to keep me on my toes, they would tell me that I was getting too big for my britches and if I did not “size” myself to my britches quickly, they would have to “size” them to me. Those reminders and admonitions served to keep my self-esteem in check, as they were always delivered when I was acting inconsiderate, prideful, and the like; in today’s vernacular, like “it was all about me.”

I turn 60 this year—hard to believe since I feel just as good as I did when I was 25, maybe even better (having shed the excesses of my youth—most of them anyway). When I reminisce about my childhood with other people my general age, I never fail to discover we all had pretty much the same experiences. We all were expected to do chores around the house. We were not paid for doing these chores, but we were punished if we did not. Our parents were not “involved” with us, and none of us can imagine anything more oppressive to a child than to have parents who feel the need to be constantly doing something with or for you. Our parents did not help us with our homework or our science projects, yet at every grade we performed at a higher level than today’s kids. And nearly all of us were told on some regular basis that we were small fish in big ponds and that we were getting too big for our britches.

Today’s kids don’t grow up the way we did. They don’t have chores. That’s a shame, because one learns good citizenship by first being a responsible member of one’s family. Their parents are involved, which is too bad because that often is delivered so compulsively that it prevents a child from learning how to swim with his own two fins. And I’m certain that it’s the rare child today who hears, even rarely, “You need to be reminded, I can tell, that you are a small fish in a big pond” and “If you don’t size yourself to those britches, and right now, I’m gonna size ‘em to ya!”

It’s evident to people my age that today’s kids are allowed to think it’s all about them. That’s understandable, because if you talk to today’s parents about their kids, it’s obvious that the typical modern parent thinks his/her kid is not just a big fish, but the ONLY FISH THAT REALLY MATTERS. I have concluded that the reason today’s kids wear britches that are absurdly outsized is so they can never get too big for them. All too many of today’s kids are allowed to be rude, inconsiderate, and disrespectful, and no one seems to possess the gumption it takes to size them to their britches. This was all brought home to me on Easter Day.

Every Easter, after church, Willie and I take our entire family—five adults and six children—to a very nice eatin’ place where most folks come dressed in their Sunday best. As Willie and I are approaching the entrance, a car pulls up and discharges a young teenage girl who looks like she mimicking some actress she’s seen getting out of a limo at the Oscars. At the entrance stands a woman who is at least ten years older than me. She nods and smiles at the girl in a way that suggests she is her grandmother. The girl walks up, opens the door and instead of holding it for her grandmother, she walks on through. I hold the door for Grandma, who manages to hold onto a waning smile as she enters.

Inside, I witness at least three children, all old enough to know better (then again, one does not know better unless one is taught to know better), push rudely in front of adults, one of whom nearly trips and falls. Needless to say, not one “excuse me” is uttered, except by the one adult who nearly trips and falls.

On all of these occasions, parents stood silent witness to children who were acting like it was all about them. I suppose they didn’t say anything for fear of lowering their kids’ self-esteem. Unfortunately, the best research is clear that high self-esteem is associated with anti-social behavior, of which bad manners are just the tip of the iceberg.

I think the world was a much better place when children were little fishes who dared not get too big for their britches (swimsuits?), but perhaps such nostalgia is the province of those who are about to turn 60.

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