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Opinion | Be polite, it makes all the difference

By Stephanie Saville

What we are noticing now in some youngsters is a dearth of self-reliance and problem-solving that seems to come with a lack of confidence in taking decisions and being independent.

Stephanie Saville, the editor of The Witness.

Children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.

Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households.

They no longer rise when elders enter the room.

They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannise their teachers.

Versions of this quote are credited as sentiments expressed by Socrates who lived from 470 to 399 BC.

It’s not 100% verified that he said this, but scholars have contemplated his words for centuries.

Many parents of teenagers can probably identify.

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But this column is not a rant about how awful youngsters are.

Rather it’s an expansion of a chat with colleagues and friends recently about some young people and why they are the way they are.

What we are noticing now in some youngsters is a dearth of self-reliance and problem-solving that seems to come with a lack of confidence in taking decisions and being independent.

Many urban children have, due to crime, had to be a lot more sheltered in recent years and, parents who are able to, generally accompany them almost everywhere.

They get a lot less freedom and as a result are a lot less independent.

Adults make decisions for them.

But this shows up later in life when they need to be self-reliant and resourceful at work or while away from home studying in another city.

As children, we had to cross busy roads, figure out bus timetables so we could take two buses home to accommodate school sport, for example, and learnt from young how to pay for something ourselves, even if it was just toffees at the tearoom that we’d walked to with our mates.

Sometimes we were sent into the supermarket to get bread and milk while mom parked outside.

On Sundays, as a special treat, we went into KFC and placed our orders for Colonel Burgers, paid and waited to get them.

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Once we were in high school, our mother made us make our own doctor’s appointments, and go into the doctor’s room alone.

In another vein, many years ago, a friend who was a teacher gave me some valuable advice.

She said that one should not praise everything your child does.

If your child draws a picture and it’s been done in a slap dash manner, for example, don’t tell them it’s a thing of beauty.

Tell them they could do better and that it needs work.

Too often I hear parents praising every little thing their child does, no matter how mediocre.

It’s like they’re so scared they’ll damage their child’s spirit that they inculcate in them that mediocrity or worse are good enough.

They’re really not.

You know your child’s limits.

Praise them only when they’ve really tried hard.

Don’t reward poor effort.
This is why.

One day they’ll enter the workforce and if they are made to believe that a small amount of effort is a marvellous thing of accomplishment, what happens then?

Their boss will not care as much about nurturing their spirit as they will about productivity and a high standard of work.

Coming into the job market, it’s no good thinking anyone owes you anything (except a salary at month end if you’ve slogged your socks off).

We know we have a job to do and do it to the best of our ability.

It’s not our place to be disrespectful to anyone in the organisation or a client.

There are lovely exceptions, but I boycott shops where the sales people are surly or unhelpful.

I’ve discovered a petrol station I return to each time I can bear to fill up, because the women who work there are darlings.

After a chat with one a while ago, I gave her a much bigger than normal tip because she was so friendly and went out of her way to be helpful.

She shouted out something to the other women attendants on the forecourt and they sang me a rousing goodbye as I drove out grinning and waving, my day made.

Also, in recent months I’ve given gifts to three different youngsters, and not been thanked.

It’s riled me.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t care, but if I’m honest, I really do.

While it’s the thought that counts in a present, it is also the acknowledgment that counts and frankly determines whether such generosity will be repeated.

Compare a blank silence to the squeal of delight and big hug I got from another youngster recently in response to me giving her something I’d made for her baby.

There’s more going her way, for sure.

Others have sent a polite Whatsapp or been genuinely appreciative at the time the gift was given.

The not insubstantial lift these gave me makes me want to repeat the exercise.

The lack of response from those who couldn’t be bothered to respond doesn’t motivate me to give to them again.

Manners also encompasses things like stepping back for an elder when you approach a door, acknowledging a thoughtful motorist giving you a gap in the traffic or a car stopping to let you cross safely in front of it.

A smile and wave do wonders in motivating for this kind of behaviour.

There’s also greeting someone in a friendly manner, which is really important. Manners maketh marvellous young adults, and fortunately, in my experience, I come across many marvellous young adults.

And now for something different.

A friend I was at school with, who I haven’t seen since about 1982 and who I’ve connected with on social media, posted this recently.

I love it:

Kurt Vonnegut in conversation with his wife.

He tells her he’s going out to buy an envelope.

“Oh,” she says.

“Well, you’re not a poor man.

“You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet?”

And so I pretend not to hear her.

And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope.

I meet a lot of people.

And, see some great-looking babes.

And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up.

And ask a woman what kind of dog that is.

And, and I don’t know …

“And, of course, the computers will do us out of that.

And what the computer people don’t realise, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals.

You know, we love to move around.

And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.”

Go on.

Go and buy an envelope this weekend.

And if you want to dance, do it, wherever you are.

I dare you.

• Stephanie Saville is the editor of The Witness.