Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Talking to Kids About Courtesy

posted by Nell Minow

We seem to be in the midst of an epidemic of rude behavior, with three high-profile recent examples in three different fields of endeavor — though, interestingly, all involving people with last names starting with “W.” At the State of the Union address, Congressman Joe Wilson expressed his differences with the President not by writing an op-ed or giving an interview but by yelling out “You lie!” in the middle of the speech. Tennis star Serena Williams got into an argument with the line judge at the U.S. Open that included an ugly, profanity-laced threat. And at the MTV video music awards, rapper Kanye West interrupted teen country and pop star Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for best female video to tell her that hers was not as good as Beyonce’s.
Perhaps one key to this trend can be found in the fact that all three of these incidents and the round of awkward and grudging apologies received the kind of press coverage we used to reserve for a royal wedding, while an act of supreme graciousness and courtesy received almost none. West, who in the past has been notoriously rude at award shows when someone else won an award he thought should have been his, this time interrupted Swift to tell her that while her video was fine, “Single Ladies” by Beyonce was better. Beyonce, sitting in the audience, looked aghast. But then, in a moment that would have been considered too outlandish for a movie, Beyonce won the top award of the night, video of the year. She went up to the stage, impeccable in attire and bearing as always, and turned the stage over to Swift.
What do these incidents teach our children? In movies, on television, and in the media we see rude behavior rewarded with laughter, attention, and even plaudits for “honesty.” Manners and courtesy are words that seem old-fashioned these days and concepts that seem all-but forgotten.
I believe that one of a parent’s most important responsibilities is teaching children the importance of courtesy. Yes, that includes which fork to use and passing the salt and pepper together even when only the salt is requested. And yes, it includes a hand-written, prompt, and specific thank you note for any gift, hospitality, or special kindness. But mostly courtesy is about showing the kind of respect and dignity that will benefit not only the recipient but the person who provides it. The simple rules of courtesy are a road-map that will give children and teenagers confidence and poise. And a big advantage in interviews for school and jobs, too.
I’m going to be posting a list of good movies to help families initiate conversations about respect, manners, and courtesy. Stay tuned.

  • jestrfyl

    Your admonition is timely and well thought through. The problem is that the miscreant in each episode is not a child but an adult who ought to know better. Clearly Mrs. West taught her son better- as evidenced by his response to Jay Leno’s question – but he has since forgotten. There is little hope for Rep. Wilson, though if he has grandkids perhaps his own kids will have taught them better. Serena simply needs to focus her energy not on verbal defense but on defensive play.
    Manners are NOT for children only. Adults need model the behavior they expect from children. If not, they will receive from children exactly what they have modeled (and how well will West, Wilson, and Williams receive that same rude behavior?).
    By the way, my last actual name begins with a “W” and I hope I am not associated with my coincidental alphabetic relations.

  • Andreas Ulanowsky

    I think children today, in general, are not learning manners because we adults don’t take the time to pay attention to them. It’s a very different society today. Television offers little or no time for slow paced programs. I’ very disappointed that Mister Rogers Neighborhood is no longer airing, if not more than for one day. That program is needed more now these days, since it offered ´children a chance to clam down and have some quiet time before dinner was served.
    Childeen learn best from obswrving. These days, we are teaching children to thuink they need to purchase a product to feel they have worth. Again, this is where Mr. Rogers was right on target! It’s you I like, Not your toys, they’re just beside you.
    if we could stop and think about the way our daily lives are are actually shaped by what what we ourselves act or behave, I think we’d better serve our children. Manners are very important to teach, and I agree that mass media doesn’t present that enough, This is the primary reason I have opposed programs such as American Idol, and any reality program being aired. they don’t teach morals at all. They present the idea that we should demean others. They also present the idea that it’s ok to be selffish and not be kind to others.
    Mr. Rogers said in a special program he produced for parents, in association with the Robert Kennedy assasination that we talk a lot and that leaves little time for listening. I think this is very true for today’s society. I wonder how many artists and performers have actuallly thought aboout how to approach their fans, when they are children? It’s a very differnt world for children than we adults are. they even look up to their superheros and Barbie.
    For me, the only person that I could look up to and admire as a kid, it was always Mr. Rogers, since he was an honest adult who never let me down. He gave me and many other children respect! It saddens me that his programs have, for the most part, have been considered passe by parents today! I’m very greatful for all that he has shared with me and I adnire all those who appeared on his programs over the years.

  • Alicia

    Good post, Nell. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and participating in a lot of blog discussions (such as Crunchy Cons) about the incivility in political discourse at present. Some blame it on the 1960’s (Rod Dreher compared the Tea Party and 9/12 folks to the Yippies).
    It occured to me that some frustrated people may find rudeness liberating – I think that the reason people listen to folks like Rush Limbaugh or watch Michael Moore’s movies is that they enjoy seeing “the other” mocked or treated rudely. But, perhaps we all need to take a step back and do a little more soul-searching. I find that, when I get very “exercised” about something that is going on in politics, for instance, it is often a “cover” for something else that is going on within. Anyway, just my thoughts, and I look forward to your list.

  • r4i

    Its a good blog. I liked it actually i m writing a book of my own on children where this topic is also a part of it. It help me . I would like to include in my book your name, about your blog where you have mentioned your thoughts about courtesy in kids. It is very essential in todays world trust me.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks r4i!

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