I'm going to go with depressing:
Now, the NYT presents the brave new world of…teaching your children table manners. I can’t decide if it’s encouraging that parents actually want to do this or depressing that they’ve just discovered it might be a good idea and are now outsourcing it because they’re too wimpy to do it on their own.
A little while back I had the opportunity to have a home-cooked dinner with a friend and his family, which includes two teenagers. The 14-year-old-daughter actually ate sliced ham with her fingers, right in front of me, without a word from either parent. And yes, she had a knife and fork right there.
Now, I wouldn't call it a formal dinner, but it was something of a special occasion with half a dozen guests who very rarely sit down for dinner with them. And heaven knows I'm not exactly the sort to get the vapors if someone does something like use the wrong fork. But call me crazy, I knew by about age five that sliced ham wasn't finger food at the dinner table.
Both kids were also so self-absorbed that they would take food as it was passed around and then have to repeatedly be told to pass it on to the next person. Seriously. Every time they would dish some food onto their plate, set the bowl or platter down instead of passing it, and start eating. They had to be told to pass it on. Every time, no kidding.
The same sort of thing happened when they were asked to pass something else as the dinner progressed, only better worse. When I asked the teen son to please pass the salt and pepper that was right in front of him, I got no response from him. His dad had to reach over, hold the shakers in front of his son's face, and tell him to pass them on. That also happened repeatedly with both kids, and yes, somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut about all of it despite the strong urge to teach them some manners.
Don't get me wrong, they are, overall, really good kids, but it was obvious to all of the other adults there that their parents had failed them in some important ways when it comes to table manners. Hopefully they will wake up and learn on their own soon or they are doomed to embarrass themselves in front of people more important to them than some of their dad's old friends. Because the good news is that good table manners still live on in many houses. I can cite some more bad examples, but I also know some kids who are wonderfully well-mannered and polite at the table.
It's good if parents are paying more attention to manners, but if you click through all the way to the Times article this bit makes me a little sad:
“These days, you have to teach kids about return on investment,” said Robin Wells, the founder of Etiquette Manor in Coral Gables, Fla., which holds classes on etiquette for adults and children. When it comes to children, she said, long gone are the days when you could tell them that they have to behave a certain way “just because.”
I suppose "because I'll swat your little behind" is gone too. Or maybe it's because "I'll swat your little behind" is long gone.
Spanking was a last resort for my parents and rarely used, but it was there as part of the toolkit to keep their six children in line. And you know what? They could take all of us out for Sunday dinner and we would actually behave. And use our knives and forks. And say "yes sir" or "yes ma'am" and "please" and "thank you" to the people who served us and even to each other.