Replacing rudeness with respect: 'Children are people too'

It was just the kind of day it should be for the opening of the new semester. The air was cool and crisp, and there was heavy dew on the ground as my daughter and I left home for her first day at school.

Just outside the office, a pleasant young man stood behind a table marked "Registration." He informed us that my daughter needed to take a reading placement test before entering class. He asked us to choose one of few remaining open times. My daughter, book and pen in hand, said, "I'll sign for the 11 a.m. time or we'll have to wait here until 2 p.m."

At that instant an official-looking woman, two boys in tow, marched out of the office. Speaking rapidly to the boys, not acknowledging us, she reached out brusquely and took the pen and appointment book out of my daughter's hand. Filling in the one remaining early appointment time, she threw the book and pen on the table and marched back into the office, never interrupting her dialogue with the two young boys.

My daughter looked at me slightly stunned. I looked from her to the young man behind the table. He raised an eyebrow and shrugged noncommittally.

"Children are people, too," I said aloud. To myself I said, "Surely she would not have been that rude to an adult." Believing that children learn more from example than dictate, I mused regretfully that I would have liked to have chosen a different lesson for my daughter during her first new minutes in a new school.

Similar examples of rude treatment of children by adults are endless. Many adults seem unconsciously to view children as a different and less significant species. During my years in education, I sometimes passed an open classroom door and heard an irate teacher shouting "shut up" at his or her impressionable young charges. I tried to picture this same teacher shouting "shut up" to a group of noisy colleagues at a faculty meeting.

Who has not stood his or her turn at a counter and watched a child, a paying customer, money in hand, repeatedly being passed over in deference to the adult customers? An afternoon shopping trip would hardly be complete without the sound of some parent saying to a tired youngster, "Too bad, I'm tired, too," or, "Quit it," in less than endearing, to say nothing of polite, tones.

Or picture an engrossed father dragging his exhausted child through a crowded shopping center, ignoring the youngster's futile efforts to gain his father's attention as he repeatedly whines. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." The scene becomes humorous rather than pathetic or annoying if one pictures this same man whimpering to get his absorbed wide's attention as she drags him, tired and unwilling, through the same noisy shopping center.

Some adults continue to take this license with their children even when they reach young adulthood. Recently, at a resort lake, I heard a man turn from his adult companions and scream some distance to his 18-year-old daughter, who was engaged in conversation with her young firends. "Hey, get over here right now, I need your help." He then turned back to his adult friends and resumed the role of gracious host.

Children are people, too -- people who make up 38 percent of our country's population. If they repeatedly receive rude treatment in their formative years, does it not seem likely that they will, in turn, grow into adulthood believing, at some level, that it is perfectly acceptable to be r ude in manner and speech to children?

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