My most recent area of focused study has been preteen girls---how they commingle with each other and interact with surrounding adults. Suffice to say I’ve been undergoing immersion therapy since my own pre-teen has hosted more sleepovers in the last several months than I can count.
Now I am no prude and grew up in a liberal, eccentric household where quirky exchanges between loved ones were the norm. But put bluntly: I’m appalled.
I constantly drill my children on the importance of good old-fashioned etiquette, social graces and the keys to emotional intelligence. “Look your friend’s mother in the eye when she asks you a question,” I emphasize. “Be certain to greet the family members as they arrive home and when you see them again first thing in the morning. Pick up after yourself, and offer to help with the dishes after each meal served. Be helpful and practically untraceable,” I go on and on, always advising.
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And yet all I really can do is hold my breath and hope for the best; hope that my kids will indeed practice what I preach and what we role-play once they step foot out of our house and into someone else’s.
But these kids I’ve hosted recently under my own roof has been a real eye-opener for me as a parent. They sit slouched and disengaged at my kitchen table waiting to be served, muttering out an occasional incoherent “please” or “thank you.” And once they’ve finished eating, they lethargically arise from the table and take their plates to the sink only if asked to do so. They leave their bedding and belongings strewn across my daughter’s bedroom floor with wet bathing suits and towels tossed carelessly atop the bed.
They brazenly insist on showering in my shower because it’s bigger and then complain about the water pressure. And they audaciously insist that my other children are kept out of their way and demand that my daughter prohibit her adorable little sister from tagging along for a neighborhood bike ride. (When my deflated daughter told me this, I reminded her that her loyalties lie with her family and if her friends don’t want little sis hanging around, they can leave and not come back.)
Yes, they come from “good families,” are straight-A honor roll students, champion chess players, protagonists in the school play, yada, yada, yada… But somehow, somewhere, something went awry and someone wasn’t paying attention because they lack emotional intelligence and the most fundamental social graces.
My husband came home late from work and had never met the two girlfriends that were spending the night. As he entered the house, I spoke directly to the nail-biting duo slithering across my living room floor, entrenched in whispered conversation: “Girls, this is Mr. So-and-So, your friend’s father. Say hello.”
I said it twice.
No reaction. No greeting. No acknowledgement at all.
Now my blood is boiling and I don’t know what to do. Do I proceed to educate these girls on basic social etiquette? Do I ignore their boorish behavior? Or do I refuse to allow my daughter to socialize with them at all? Despite their academic achievements, obviously they are not good company. (My daughter later confessed to feeling saddened because they told her she couldn’t hang out with them and their other friends because the other group of girls “didn’t like her (my daughter).”
In the meantime, I think I’ll just continue to voice my opinion and adhere to the “respect my rules while under my roof” philosophy. And continue to use any observed negative behavior as a springboard for future family discussions where all can learn about appropriate behavior and good manners.
And despite the odds stacked against them, I pray that with much prodding, my gang will grow up impervious to the epidemic of social ineptitude that has infested today’s generation of kids.