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Kids First on Fox: How to teach your kids civility 

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Civility is the practice of good manners in both speech and behavior.  It is the behavior that recognizes the humanity of others.  It is what allows us to live peacefully together in families, neighborhoods, schools, and communities.  Civility requires restraint and an ability to put the interest of the common good above self-interests, treating others with decency, regardless of our differences.

  • Civility is best taught to youth by positive role modeling of adults (e.g. parents, neighbors, teachers, coaches, media personalities, sports figures, and the general public). Influential peers such as siblings and friends are also role models.  To be civil one must practice empathy, respect, and social consciousness.

Today’s youth and incivility:

  • Less than 1/3 of high school students say their classmates’ treat each other with respect.

Only 1 in 5 high school students say their classmates treat their teachers with respect. (publicagenda.org)

  • 88% of teens reported having witnessed someone being mean or cruel online to another person. (pewinternet.org)
  • 84% of parents say it is important to teach their children to be polite and courteous, yet only 62% feel they succeeded in doing so.

91% of parents say it is important to teach their children to be honest, yet only 55% feel as though they succeeded.  (publicagenda.org)

Studies show that incivility leads to violence, unhealthy communities, and societies paralyzed by conflict and political division. 

All of us are guilty of some uncivil behaviors. Examples of common uncivil behaviors are people having loud cell phone conversations in public; using cell phones at inappropriate times; talking during a movie in a theater; being rude to cashiers and servers; cutting in line; being tardy; using foul language; displaying bad table manners; yelling or screaming; shoving or bumping someone; being condescending; blaming others for our actions; littering; and, not being accepting of people who are different than us or who have differing views.

Social Health Association of Indiana strives to teach civil behaviors to empower youth to lead happy, healthy and safe lives.  This is the kind of civilized life we want our children to live now and as adults!

Why has civility in America declined?

  1. Cultural influences, including media, technology, gaming, news and entertainment may contribute to the increased incivility among youth and adults.
  2. Some TV shows, celebrities, public officials, and sports figures have demonstrated backstabbing, mean or cheating behavior as admirable winning qualities.
  3. The Internet has produced an etiquette-free zone where anonymity has led to incivility.
  4. Society has become more informal without as many agreed-upon rules for respectful behavior.

In a survey conducted about teen etiquette the teen respondents reported:

  • 97% learned their manners from home and ranked “Family Upbringing” as the #1 factor for its impact on civility.
  • 70% of teens felt society, as a whole, displays more bad manners than good.
  • 92% said social media is making us a less civil society.
  • When asked where they learned their bad behaviors, teens top three answers were: (1) media, books, and movies, (2) school classes, and (3) friends.

It is important for parents and all adults to remember that children model adult behavior that they see on television and in real life.  Learning civility develops positive self-esteem in children, creates lower stress levels, and gives them strong social skills to form healthy relationships.

  • The most basic form of civility is teaching children manners such as always saying, “Please” and “Thank you” and “May I?” Not only are these polite phrases, they usually elicit a positive response from the other person, so it’s a win-win and everyone feels good!
  • An essential but challenging aspect for adults to teach civility to kids is “walking the talk.”  The essence of teaching civility is captured in the poem, Children Learn What They Live.

Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

          If children live with criticism,
They learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility,
They learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule,
They learn to be shy.
If children live with shame,
They learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement,
They learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance,
They learn to be patient.
If children live with praise,
They learn to appreciate.
If children live with acceptance,
They learn to love.
If children live with approval,
They learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty,
They learn truthfulness.
If children live with security,
They learn to have faith in themselves and others.
          If children live with friendliness,
They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

          Copyright © 1972/1975 by Dorothy Law Nolte       This is the author-approved short version.

How can we teach civility to our children?

  1. Think about the impact of words and actions on others before you use them.
  2. Apologize when you are wrong.
  3. Set ground rules for civil behavior at home, work and school.
  4. Teach kids how to become engaged citizens.
  5. Treat children and adults with the respect that you expect from them.
  6. Demand civility of politicians and public servants.
  7. Use respectful language when you disagree with someone.
  8. Don’t let anger and emotion get in the way of listening to others.
  9. Be tolerant of people who are different from you.
  10. Teach character strengths like respect and empathy.
  11. Challenge people’s views, but don’t attack the person.
  12. Acknowledge others for their civility and respectful behavior, regardless of their viewpoints.
  13. Remind kids often why they – and you – should be civil.
  14. Empower children to take a stand against bullying.
  15. Lead by example.

(Teaching concepts are from Civility 101: Who’s Teaching the Class, Roots of Action, February 23, 2015    by Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD.)

Call to Action:

We have created a game for parents to play with their children based on concepts of civility.  It does not cost anything to teach civility to kids except for time and intentional instruction.  This game will engage adults and kids for the next 8 weeks from now through the holidays and will make practicing civility fun! By the end of the year, kids who play this game will be on their best behavior and positive role models for others they interact with at school, home and throughout the holidays.

This fun activity will encourage family communication while challenging the adults and youth of all ages in the family to practice civil behaviors

(1) Print the list of questions.

(2) Cut apart each statement/question and fold it.

(3) Put all pieces of the folded paper in a jar, bowl or hat and pull one piece of paper out each week (or

let a child pull it out to add to the fun and suspense).

NOTE:  It is important to make this a FUN activity and not make the child feel like it is a chore, homework or something that they will be judged on.   This is not a contest but rather a fun way        to learn new civil behaviors in real-life situations and encourage family discussions on civility.

(4) Read the statement (or have a child read it) and challenge each family member (including you!) to

work on the statement during the week.

(5) Then at the end of the week, perhaps during a car ride or meal time, each member can share how

they practiced the concept.  When a member shares, it is important to give him/her full attention

and eye contact and eliminate other distractions like music, phone, or side conversations.  Part of

teaching civility is ensuring the child experiences civility.

Some questions to explore during the family discussion are the following:

Were the results good or bad? What would you do differently the next time? How did others  react to you? How did it make you feel to use civil behaviors?  Do you plan to continue using  this behavior in other situations?

  1. Think about the impact of words and actions on others before you use them.  We have all said or done something that hurt someone else.  How can we change how we speak to others to not be hurtful or harmful? This week use your words and actions to make others feel good.
  1. Apologize when you are wrong.  Isn’t it hard to apologize sometimes?  How do you feel after you apologize?  Do you think the other person feels better? This week apologize to someone whom your words or actions may have hurt.
  1. Treat children and adults with the respect that you expect from them.  How do you show your friends or co-workers that you respect them?  When you have been disrespected how did it make you feel? This week show respect to someone, especially to a person you might not feel like showing respect to.
  1. Use respectful language when you disagree with someone.  What are some phrases or words that might be helpful when talking to others who we disagree with?  What should a person do if they feel themselves getting angry or if the other person becomes angry or disrespectful? This week when you disagree with someone, use words and actions that show respect for their ideas or opinions, even if you disagree.
  1. Don’t let emotions get in the way of listening to others. Let’s practice listening to others instead of thinking about our response to them.  Oftentimes while we are listening we are thinking of our response and might get emotional like excited or upset.  In this case, we do not fully process what the person is saying.  This week listen to someone by giving them eye contact and not looking away at a phone, TV or other distraction.  Do not interrupt them. Focus on listening without thinking of what you want to say next or having an emotional reaction. 
  1. Be tolerant of people who are different from you.  In what ways can we participate in activities that we have never done before?  How can we learn new and exciting things from people who are different than us? This week talk to someone who is a lot different than you and ask them polite questions that will help you understand more about them. 
  1. Teach respect and empathy.  What are some of the positive character strengths/traits you admire in others? How can you model for others positive character strengths like being accountable, reliable, respectful, determined, creative, empathetic, enthusiastic, honest, hard-working, and polite?  This week be a positive role model for others and be sure to follow through on what you say you will do by doing it well, on time and with a great attitude.
  1. Acknowledge others for their civility and respectful behavior, regardless of their viewpoints. Even when we disagree with someone else’s point of view, how can we show them that they matter and you heard their voice?  This week compliment someone on their respectful behavior so they know that you notice how civilly they actTry to select someone who may least expect to get a compliment from you at home, school or work.

Activity created by Social Health Association of Indiana (2016); Teaching concepts adapted from Civility 101: Who’s Teaching the Class, Roots of Action, February 23, 2015 by Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell.

More parent resources on positive social health behaviors can be located at www.socialhealth.org

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