“Don’t behave like a bunch of Hoodlums. Be Civil”. These were sometimes parting words from parents years ago as their children left the house and went off to school, church, social events or anywhere where a child’s bad behavior could be considered a direct reflection on the adults responsible for rearing them. This meant for us to be kind, courteous, respectful, supportive, and inclusive of others regardless of our differences. As I look at the social climate in schools today, I wonder how many children are getting this message.
According to Webster’s Dictionary civility – (si vil′i te), n, pl. – is defined as – 1. Courtesy; politeness. 2. A polite action or expression. 3. Archaic. Civilization; culture; good breeding.
As parents, we spend a significant amount of time with our children focusing on school work, sports, and social activities. We also put a great deal of effort in making sure they have high self-esteem. But how much time do we spend teaching our children how to be civil human beings?
As children enter the new school year they are nervous and afraid for a variety of different reasons. They tend to worry about teachers, classes, fitting in, making new friends, and not becoming a target of bullying. Traditionally entering high school as a freshman could by itself subject a child to all sorts of humiliation and bullying by those who were now considered the upper class-men. Combine fears of the unknown with the aggressive tactics of children today and school could become one long and continuous nightmare. More and more incidents are occurring on school campuses and buses that make me wonder where all of the civility has gone. Students stand by and watch as others are taunted, beaten, and humiliated. They are also guilty of engaging in what I call “Bullying by Committee” which is being a part of a group that taunts and humiliates other students for various reasons. Even if you don’t engage in the taunting and humiliation, being a part of a group that does and failing to say or do anything can be just as bad. Many children feel the need to elevate themselves by taunting other kids who do not meet their social standards as friends. Hurtful bullying, teasing and gossiping may become a pattern for children who lack the skills of civility.
Lessons on civility should start at home and be further nurtured in schools. School is the first large environment most children are exposed to and if they do not start to practice civility in this environment, how will their behaviors in other environments affect their ability to earn a living or perhaps stay out of trouble or jail? Parents lead by example and teaching civility now will translate into young men and women becoming well rounded productive young adults, parents, community members, and citizens.
The most important skills we can teach our children are how to respect, value, and support other children, especially those who may have lifestyles, cultural or religious backgrounds, social characteristics, or learning styles that may be different from our own. Our children need to learn from us to be inclusive in their social relationships, not exclusive so take a good look at those people you surround yourself with. Are you accepting of those who are different from you? Have you always been the best role model for civility? Is it something that you have taken the time to teach? And for students, how civil is your behavior towards those you share a classroom or school campus with? What can you do to be more civil?
Think of how our school environments might drastically change for the better if civility was again being taught as a priority in our homes and modeled in our schools? It can once again become a place of learning rather than a place that some of our children fear.