People Skills

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Congress is the last straw: let’s teach our kids to be rude

Want your kid to disrespect authority?

There's been a slippery slope to rudeness over the past years. Remember  when a challenge to an authority figure was made politely ("I don't think I was speeding, officer.") and when public forums had expected decorum? Then we started hearing about parents screaming or even beating up referees at Little League Games. It made the news. We had Town Board meetings with shouting and name calling, and speakers being heckled at colleges. Somehow, these incidents seemed fewer, and the idea that respect was called for still prevailed. That's why there's usually such a fuss, fines and ejection of sports figures who behave badly towards coaches and referees. They are supposed to be role models of sportsmanlike behavior, of behaving appropriately regardless of how they feel. Serena Williams was ejected from the US Open Final for using threatening language towards a line judge.

The exception is becoming the norm. Calling out, being rude and aggressive in public forums is no longer news.

I imagine you thinking, "What does this have to do with me?" My answer - a lot. Our children are learning new acceptable limits of behavior. Talk to many teachers and you'll hear how rude children are backed up, not disciplined, by equally rude parents. In one city, parents protested at restaurants that dared to set rules for children's behavior. At home, we still expect our children to abide by our rules even if they don't like them. Loss of respect for authority is like toothpaste out of a tube. You can't put it back. Our children do what we do and what they see. I know of a child who threatened to call the Department of Youth Services and sue when his parents disciplined him.

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Congress is the final straw. I can't imagine a setting with a greater call for behavior that observes our right to disagree while retaining respect for that right and each other. When our civic leaders of any stripe display name calling within the chamber, when political debate at that level can no longer be civil, we've sunk to a new low. When President Bush was heckled and the subject of threatening behavior at a press conference in Iraq, we were offended as a nation, even those who opposed his policies. Yet we're now seeing this kind of behavior regularly these days among our elected officials.

Doing nothing is doing something in this case. If we do not speak out loudly and decisively against such rude, disrespectful, inappropriate behavior in public, whether at a Little League game or in Congress, we are teaching our children that rudeness and acting out are acceptable ways of disagreeing. We need to hold these situations up as examples of what NOT to do. We blame TV, video games and everyone else for a decrease in civility and an increase in aggression in children's behavior towards authority. Have we looked at ourselves as well?



Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D., is an attending faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Norwalk Hospital.


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