The standard for good childhood manners differs according to culture and family backgrounds. In the Far East, belching at the table is considered a compliment to the chef. (It wasn’t at my house!) Clearing your plate in China is not a good thing. A host there would feel obligated to keep filling it up and additional food may be scarce.
It is an insult to tip in Japan and Korea and displaying an “OK” sign by touching your index finger to your thumb is another kind of insult in South America. Exposing your palms while waving goodbye is bad manners in many cultures; so is greeting someone with your left (unclean) hand.
Because we have all these social mores, it is important that our children learn “good manners.” There are lots of sources to help us. There are published lists that highlight the top manners every child should know. They are broken down by age and social situation. There are groups that specialize in training children to behave properly. A group called “Charming Children” focuses on 4-7 year olds and the National League of Jr. Cotillion focuses on middle school students.
With all these efforts, we seem to be raising a whole generation of very “nice” kids. They are well behaved, polite and comfortable in social situations. But for Christian families, is that enough?
I was recently given a book by Timothy Smith entitled, The Danger of Raising Nice Kids (IVP Books) and I would highly recommend this book to all parents. Tim cautions us to be careful and not confuse being nice with being good. He says, “The goal of effective parenting is not to raise safe, nice kids. It is to raise strong ones.” He recommends that we add nine “forgotten qualities” to the lists of manners we usually reference as we raise our children.
He suggests that vision, authenticity, listening skills, empathy, compassion, discernment, boundaries, contentment and passionate love all need to be emphasized as we train up our sons and daughters.
None of us want to raise trophy children. “Being nice won’t help them stand apart,” Tim says, “We need to strategically train our children to engage and challenge the popular views of our culture.” We want to model core values and biblical principles so our kids can truly be kingdom builders.
I appreciate children who have good manners. I love to hear those “pleases” and “thank yous.” I appreciate the eye contact and receiving respect from a young person. But I am convinced that it isn’t enough. This week, get a copy of Tim’s book and read it with me. Polite kids are great, but spiritually powerful kids are better! Let’s all be about the job of preparing our children to rock their world!
By His Grace and for His Glory,
Sherry L. Worel