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I am starting to sound like my grandmother. There was a time when it was those with white hair and wrinkled faces who complained about kids’ lack of manners. Yet I am increasingly finding myself echoing the sentiment.

I say it every day when I look out and see the base playground littered with soda cans and candy wrappers. It is muttered under my breath when I walk through the exchange and witness countless kids speaking disrespectfully to their parents.

This summer, the children of people attending a crowded outdoor party at a neighbor’s house wandered off into the private patio of an adjacent neighbor and began pulling out their toys and belongings — and even riding in their child’s battery-operated jeep. After a mild rebuke and laughter from the parents, their severest rebuke was left for the neighbor whose property was invaded. “You might want to take the battery out of that,” they scolded.

Perhaps the question I have is not, “Where are children’s manners?” For, how can something that was never present be missing? My question is now, “Where are parents’ manners?”

I have always prided myself that the military community — specifically the Marine Corps, of which my family is a part — consisted of the most disciplined and honorable men and women. I still believe that. However, are discipline and respect things we leave at the office or on the field of battle?

Teaching manners is about more than getting well-behaved children, although that is an outstanding benefit. Manners teach children that they are not alive to have their wants and desires served by everyone else, but rather to be helpful and contributing members to their homes and society.

One of the cruelest things you can do to your children is to allow them to become people no one wants to be around. I say “allow” because, on their own, that is who they will become. It is wrong to expect that your children will learn good behavior from teachers, TV programs or their friends. As parents, we are the ones with the right, duty and privilege of teaching our children proper behavior. It is an honored position to have such authority in our children’s lives.

It is a blessing to my husband and me when people’s faces light up when our children enter a room. It would break my heart for people to think, “Oh no, here come the Smith girls.” We are not exceptional parents; we are young and have much to learn. I covet the advice more-seasoned parents offer. However, we have seen the benefit of teaching basic manners and respect for others. We know that wherever we go as a family, we can be a pleasant addition.

There are some who feel that making children learn manners is teaching them to be restricted and uptight, and that it suffocates their happiness. Providing your children restriction and boundaries in their behavior is no less restrictive than putting toxic chemicals out of their reach. Some things must not be allowed in order for our children to be truly happy. In fact, children are happiest when they know they have boundaries that are firm and consistent.

Let me encourage all parents: Delight in the time you have while they are young to instill principles that will ensure success in whatever they do. You can teach them to be smart with money, or master certain arts, but manners will carry over into every area.

That’s what my grandmother would say. Perhaps it doesn’t take wrinkles and white hair to be wise. Then again, I am noticing a few lines around my eyes.

Carrie Smith is a military spouse who lives on Camp McTureous, Okinawa.


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