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From the Kitchen Table


Where Have All the Manners Gone?

by Peg Luksik
 

Once upon a time in America, parents disciplined their children, and society supported them in doing so. It was understood that no child was always wonderful, and that in the minutes when he wasn't, some form of corrective action was going to be applied. It was part of the job description of "parent" to apply it.

When parents fulfilled their job description, children learned that feelings and behavior did not have to be, and often should not be, identical. There was as much emphasis on doing right as there was on refraining from doing wrong. The discipline was tailored to the individual, and could be shortened or eliminated immediately when necessary. The process took place inside the confines of the family, so a child's process of learning to control his less-than-wonderful impulses was a private matter.

The discipline process was colored by love. Most parents love their little ones, even when a corrective action is required. So in the very act of correcting improper behavior, parents are teaching that there is a difference between sin and sinner, and that "loving someone" does not mean accepting every action that someone takes. Through parental discipline, children learned that love and approval are not synonyms, and that approval must be earned. In the process of earning it, those children developed self-control and found self-respect.

Sadly, that structure truly did exist once upon a time in America.

Today, we live in a society where many parents are afraid to discipline a child because they will be accused of abuse. They have been told that saying, "No!" is too authoritarian. Their children have been inundated with media images that portray parents as either stupid or mean or missing entirely. They have been fed a diet of "You're wonderful" messages which contain no actual requirement to BE wonderful.

We are all living with the results. The news is full of young adults who seem incapable of living within reasonable limits of courtesy and restraint. Whether it's the young woman in Florida who trashed a Burger King because she didn't like the service or the food, or the incident in the subway in New York where two women physically assaulted and injured a third for no discernible reason, or the uncountable reports of road rage, or the constant reports of spectator violence at sporting events, American society is unraveling.

There are those who think that we just need more government.

They are wrong. A government can never teach its citizens how to do the right thing, and it can't stop them from doing the wrong thing. The police are only called AFTER the crime has occurred. There is no coupling of love and correction because the government doesn't love and can't correct. It can only punish - officially, publicly, and rigidly.

Saying that a strong America begins with strong families is not just a truism. It is a recognition of the fact that children must be taught self-control in an atmosphere of love to become adults who can master their impulses. It takes parents to accomplish that task.


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