Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

Fretting Out Loud: On the Disintegration of Civility.

by Abby Margolis Newman


Is it just me, or does it feel as if, over the past several years, civility and polite discourse in our society have utterly deteriorated? And what are our kids learning from the horrible examples being set in the realms of politics, sports, and bullying (cyber and otherwise)?


When my three boys (now aged 17, 15 and 11) were little, I posted a sign next to our kitchen table, entitled "Top Ten Rules for Being Polite and Respectful." I know, unbelievably dorky, right? And I'm sure, had the boys been a little older, it would have served as a source of painful embarrassment when their friends were over.


The list included such basics as: "Always say please and thank you," "When you are introduced to someone, shake hands and make eye contact," "When someone makes you a meal or gives you a ride home, thank them by name" and so on. My boys will tell you that I bashed them over the heads repeatedly with these rules - not literally, of course - and it seems that at least some of the brainwashing stuck.


A few things have happened since then: one, we moved from Ohio to California, where most adults - including even some of the boys' teachers - have gone from "Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So" to being called by first names. I believe this (maybe subtly, but inarguably) changes the level of respect - and healthy generational separation - between children and adults. Secondly, the Internet has enabled people to express themselves anonymously and without consequences; this has freed complete strangers (or tenuous acquaintances) to express hostility, racism or hatefulness toward others and never face any shame or repercussions. And thirdly, our political discourse has taken a sharp dive starting - coincidentally? I think not - with the election of our first black president.


Mom of boys also. Not sure how to cure everyone, but I try to snuff out mean and disrespectful behavior, and call them on it. Dinner discussion can include examples of meanness and niceness - of course favoring the latter. Golden rule reminders. Treating each other as brothers and family members - respectful, kind and as a team. Ignoring brutish behavior of others - which is definitely difficult. I agree that the level of discourse has dropped dramatically. I expect to see in the next few years politicians fist-fighting on the floor of Congress just like you see in other countries. It will come to that here in the US.


LOVED this article. you are spot on.