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Changing a Statistic

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Changing a Statistic

  by Barbara Gilmour

Over the last 10 years [now 20] years or so, multiple surveys have reported that more than 90% of Americans consider rudeness a serious problem in our society. This is a statistic that should surprise no one. We’ve all witnessed road rage on our highways and even on country roads. Who hasn’t tried to get the attention of a retail clerk more intent on her cell phone conversation than on helping you make a purchase? Then there is the person talking loudly on his cell phone next to your table in a restaurant, while his kids run around annoying the other customers. At a Little League game, we watch with embarrassment the volatile parent who belittles his own child at an event that is supposed to be fun.

Sad to say, in many ways, we are actually becoming accustomed to rude behaviors like these. Many of us believe rudeness is an epidemic that we are powerless to change. As individuals and as a society, we’ve become complacent and resigned to this behavior. We feel that the statistic is likely to get worse.

Once in a while, we wonder aloud, “How did we get to this place? What happened to good old-fashioned courtesy, civility, and respect? Why is everyone so rude?” We may not have answers for those questions, but we don’t want to believe that there is nothing that can be done about the situation. We need to ask ourselves “What are we doing about it? How can the statistic be changed?

The first thing we need to do about it is ask how our own behaviors may be contributing to the statistic. What kind of a role model are we providing for our children? As much as we want our kids to “do as we say,” they will more likely “do as we do.” Children learn what they live. They mimic our behavior, whether good or bad, polite or rude. What they see as acceptable behavior for mom, dad, and other adults in their lives becomes the standard for acceptable behavior for them.

Besides modeling polite behavior for our kids, we can also help them understand that there are tremendous benefits to a person and to society when people are kind, caring, considerate, civil, and respectful. Character, integrity, and well-developed social skills “pay off” in terms of peaceful and productive relationships. Not only the people who must be around us, but also we benefit from behaving politely. People with good social skills are the ones that draw others to them; they are the truly successful ones. Our children need to understand that they can’t be successful if everyone thinks they are unpleasant and self-centered.

For these reasons, character education has become an important part of our national educational agenda. As a nation, we have invested considerable resources trying to promote a commitment to integrity, civility, and respect in our young people. And there’s quite a lot of evidence that these efforts are making a difference, especially for children who are not receiving this kind of instruction at home. Nevertheless, our schools and cities are still experiencing bullying and violence in staggering numbers. There’s clearly more work to do in order to get the message to our young children and teens, to help them overcome the poor examples they witness every day.

What will it take to turn the tide – to reverse the discouraging statistic? The message of change must come from every level of society – schools, government, religious and civic organizations, and from the entertainment world. We must do more to help our kids acquire social competence. Social competence means knowing what to do to get along with people. It includes social, emotional, and cognitive skills that people need to successfully adapt to the challenges of life, to respond in a healthy and appropriate way to people, responsibilities, and circumstances. If you are socially competent, you don’t need to be rude because you are equipped with the skills you need to behave decently; you have a better chance of being liked and respected by other people who are well adjusted.

If we don’t take more aggressive steps to combat rudeness, what can we expect? When rudeness is carried to an extreme, it results in a dysfunctional society characterized by frequent violence. Knowing this, more than 30 states [now all 50] have passed legislation requiring schools to address the issues of bullying, harassment, and intimidation. However, a great deal of this legislation clearly misses the mark. It defines, at great length, what bullying, harassment, and intimidation mean, and how schools should handle the problems after they occur. Very little is said about what schools should to do to prevent the problems.

It’s not enough to address destructive behaviors and social incompetence reactively. Parents, school personnel, community leaders, and law enforcement are recognizing the need to address these issues proactively. Schools must equip children to understand that violence won’t get them what they need and want in life. Kids need to see that the bully and the violent person represent failure on every level. Too often, kids get the message that the bully is the successful kid, the cool kid. We need to reverse this message. We must equip children to resist the deception that bullying and rudeness are cool.

Homes, schools, and communities will all run more smoothly if our kids are equipped with the social skills tools they need for success now and in the future. Social competence leads to improved behavior, tolerance for others, and respect for authority and property. Research is now showing that social competence training at young ages is the missing link in bullying prevention.

[This article was originally published in www.mysmmercamps.com in 2007. I’ve removed the camp references because I want to show the similarities to our bullying situation today, and how we are dealing with the same issues as 10 years ago; noting that the problem isn’t getting better.]

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