Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Did They Teach You Manners? - Ti Hanno Insegnato Le Buone Maniere?

It is amazing how many children (little kids all the way to big kids, I mean adults) do not use basic manners these days. Here in Boston I see examples of this often. I have seven/eight year old kids claiming the stairs of my house to come to see William without saying a word to me; I had an older kid silently leaving the dinner table to lie down on our couch; I saw kids jumping on the dinner table, in front of their giggling parents; parents feeding elementary school age children lunch in the floor, parents eating from the same plate of their children, still full. Not to mention the children telling their parents where they should take them that day and what food they should buy at the store.
I used to think that Italian parents were stricter with their children than their American counterparts. I was wrong. One month of Tronk's school in Italy was enough for me to discover the new free spirit generation of parents. The ones who act as friends with their children and who follow one rule: do what you want, as long as you don't bother me. There is one exception, I must say: food. At Collegio San Giuseppe in Torino, I noticed that the kids who had not yet learned to sit at the table and finish their three courses meal  in Torino were few. They were given a hard time from both teachers and parents and, yes, I saw it with my own eyes, by the school rector as well. However, as far as other aspects of discipline are concerned, I was surprised to see how some of the teachers at San Giuseppe were either raising their voice with little success or they were taking rule enforcement very lightly. Napping for instance was an issue. "We don't force our kids to sleep. If they want, they sleep. If they don't want to sleep, we let them go play in a different room, so they don't wake up the other kids", said one of the teachers, when I asked her why Tronk was so incredibly tired. Also, at the school, I saw kids of all ages, running down large sets of stairs, while pushing others (me included) without saying sorry. Furthermore, I saw parents cussing to their kids. To not mention the inexplicable: two kids, at the end of the school day, were beating each other up, while the teachers were looking at each other, without saying a word. When I asked them what had happened, they smiled and said: "mmm nothing".
In Torino, I saw lack of manners in other settings. In more than one occasion, I found myself in front of disrespectful teenagers talking loudly, cussing, smoking and yawning on my face, almost with an expression of superiority. I rarely saw them give up their seats to others in need on buses. And I could not stand the high school kids who were making fun of  the people who acted in an awkward way, because they were either old or disabled. I also saw a few surprised faces when I was raising my voice to stop Tronk from doing something he was not supposed to do."Ma e' solo un bambino! Non torturarlo!" (He is just a child, do not torture him!)
Many parents think that children should be given the same amount of freedom and decision making an adult is given and should always be listened to, based on the mere fact that children deserve respect. I honestly find it hard to agree with this. In the old days, in Italy, a child was not able to acquire a status of equality with the parents, for as long as the child was living under their roof and was eating their food. Unfortunately, in this generation (mine included), many children were also not able to acquire a status of equality with their parents as adults, not even when they were economically independent. I am not saying we should follow this model. However, I still believe that all children need an authority figure, with more experience than they have, who can first state the rules, as black or white, and who can strongly say "no", when necessary, to try to enforce them consistently. This is because, I believe children need to learn the rules first before they can break them. 

As far as Tronk is concerned, I often worry about his behavior in public. In particular, his need to always be on stage. The problem is not just Tronk but the adults he comes across every time, who inevitably greet him with smiles and giggles, whenever he says or does something, even when he farts. In these situations, I just don't know how to get Tronk (and the adults involved) to behave.