Raising rude kids?

Gen X parents are devoted to their kids. But their children are growing up rude, complains Susan Gregory Thomas on MSNBC.

(Gen Xers) are champions of “attachment parenting,” the school of child-rearing that calls for a high level of closeness between parents and children, Many Gen-X parents co-sleep with their children, hold them back from entering kindergarten if they feel their children’s emotional maturity is at stake and volunteer at their kids’ schools at record rates. Gen-X moms have been famously criticized by early feminists for dropping out of the workforce to care for their young children.

Yet, their kids are, well, rude. It may be that today’s parents are so fixated on their children’s emotional well-being that they’re teaching them that the well-being of others is comparatively unimportant, says Dr. Philippa Gordon, a long-time pediatrician in Park Slope, Brooklyn, an urban New York neighborhood famous for its dense Gen-X parent population.

Some researchers say Generation X missed out on nurturing as children. Half came from what used to be called “broken homes.”

“They are trying to heal the wounds from their own childhoods through their children,” says Dr. Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist and chair of the Television and Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Are today’s whippersnappers really worse now than past generations? We baby boomers were awfully full of ourselves. Still are, goldurn it. But our parents couldn’t hover and smother because they had too many kids.

My mother, who raised four children, is celebrating her birthday and Mother’s Day today. (We always thought it was exceptionally nice of her to be born near Mother’s Day and to let us combine the celebrations.)  The family ranges from one years old to . . . old enough.

About Joanne


  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Huh? In my experience it is children who are confident that some adult will listen to them, that their needs will be met, who are most capable of being empathic to others.

  2. I see many good writings advising parents on raising their children. My book, “The IKE Disease,” is a one on one counseling session encouraging the reader (teenager) to make decisions leading to a successful, happy life. Advice to a young person, “Get down to life, because no one is going to live it for you.” For additional information please visit my website.

    God Bless!!!

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    For what it’s worth, my experience as a high school teacher has been just about exactly opposite. My students are generally nice, polite, often charming.

    Their manners are much less a concern than their academic preparation.

  4. dangermom says:

    I’m a Gen Xer and my opinion is that a lot of people my age don’t care that much about manners. We were raised in a society where popular culture was busy throwing manners out the window–we were told that manners are fake and stultifying, while rudeness is both more honest and more funny. Quite a few of us believed what we were told; I have frequently heard people my age argue that politeness is unnecessary, oppressive, and false anyway. So some folks believe that teaching children to be polite will oppress and stultify them and crush their developing personalities, which ought to be allowed the freedom to bloom naturally. Then, a child allowed to be himself without constant nagging about manners will simply develop empathy naturally, since he is intrinsically good and innocent (that was Voltaire, right?)

    Of course that isn’t true for many of us; I know a lot more reasonably civilized children whose parents work to teach them manners than not. But parents are fighting an overwhelming tide of popular culture (advertising, TV, music, even clothing all tell children that rude = cool) when we insist that our children be polite, and we don’t always succeed in the battle.

    Now, the article has a couple of anecdotes about parental encouragement of bad manners–the little boy whose mother snatches the wagon, for example. I really think that must be rare. I spend a lot of time at parks, and the exchange invariably sounds more like “Sweetie, we don’t know whose truck that is, and we can’t play with something that isn’t ours.” A mom on the other side of the sandbox replies, “Look, Jack, that little boy wants to play with your truck. We can share with him. –Go ahead and play with the truck!”

  5. ucladavid says:

    Penn & Teller’s BullS**t did a great episode on this topic a few years back. People were much worse 50-100 years ago. People today have the most manners than at any other point in history.

  6. Too many boomers were/are unwilling to accept responsibility and act like adults; they wanted to be their child’s friend, not his parent. The schools adopted the self-esteem movement in the 80s; every child was special, every bit of work was wonderful and feelings were of primary importance. Popular culture has been celebrating all of the worst aspects of the hippie 60s. It has been a bad combination; diametrically opposed to the pre-60s Dark Ages, when self-control and discipline were absolute virtues. My family had to work hard to maintain old standards with our kids, but they are now grateful we did and are passing them along to the next generation.

  7. Ponderosa says:

    Most humans are not naturally good, Rousseau and his progressive ed and hippie acolytes notwithstanding. For many, becoming polite demands intensive and sometimes coercive training (e.g. punishment for being rude and disrespectful). Machiavelli is a better guide to human behavior than Rousseau and the Romantics. I agree that many parents have joined the Romantic School of Parenting and think they can elicit beautiful behavior from their children with only gentle words and warmth. They are loathe to get stern, as Momof4 suggests, to play the traditional grown-up role and deliver harsh checks to inconsiderate, selfish behavior. Part of this, I think, is parents’ emotional neediness –perhaps due to divorce scars, perhaps due to the social isolation that afflicts many adults in this culture. I also think rampant divorce makes parents more apt to “spare the rod”, for fear that the kids will start to love the other parent more. Whatever the cause, I encounter a good many self-absorbed, spoiled 12 and 13 year olds and a smaller number of terrific, respectful, considerate kids, who, from what I’ve been able to observe, seem to come from more traditional no-nonsense parents.

    Our school spoils children too –rewarding laziness with grade promotion. Allowing everyone, regardless of behavior, to go on field trips and special events. Our leaders tell us to establish warm rapport with kids above all –that will solve all discipline problems and drive them to learn. Issuing detentions, being stern, are frowned upon. Teachers are supposed to be kids’ beloved big brothers and sisters. Kids should be empowered to make choices about what to read, etc. Lessons should be geared to suit kids’ kid-tastes. I don’t think we’re doing kids a service by allowing them to rule the roost.

  8. Hmmm. Not seeing it. While I see my share of acting out, impulsive behavior, craziness, etc., my students have beautiful manners. They thank me when I hand out tests (this always cracks me up…), the door is almost always held for me when I’m walking into the building, and young gentlemen frequently offer to carry stuff. They are quite polite about their sense of entitlement, I must say. I often hear, “Don’t mind him; he hasn’t got any home training,” as a sort of apology/insult for a peer.

  9. Tracy W says:

    Hold on, I thought it was the BabyBoomers who spoiled their kids and raised a generation of bratty rude children?
    Or wasn’t it the babyboomer’s parents who, after surviving the Great Depression and WWII, spoiled their kids by trying to protect them from all the bad things of life?
    Whattya bet that in ten years time it’ll be the Gen Yers who are spoiling their kids, unlike previous generations?

  10. I take issue with the blaming of “Attachment Parenting” for children’s rudeness. In general the families I know who practice AP arhave kids who are much politer than average.

    This is going to sound totally politically incorrect, but the rudest kids I’ve encountered are those from dual-income or single-parent families. Definitely not *ALL* kids of employed moms- there are plenty of good ones out there. But there’s definitely a big problem with kids whose parents are too busy or perhaps too guilt-ridden to teach them manners.

  11. greifer says:

    I think it’s clear that Gen X doesn’t know how to parent. It only took two one generation to break the chain of useful knowledge, and now we’re on the 2nd generation of no parenting skills.

    But rude toddlers and preschoolers? That’s a news story? Toddlers and preschoolers are often rude. That some young kids aren’t corrected in public might be because the parents are afraid of what other authorities or onlookers would do if they disciplined their children–ever seen someone who wants very much to yell or smack their kid at Target, but is worried someone will see? That others aren’t corrected because mom or dad or nanny is reading their blackberry isn’t surprising either. But I don’t believe we have enough evidence to claim we’re seeing “more” rude children. We are seeing more children in public than any prior generation. Of course they will be rude.

    Btw, the teachers here saying “don’t see it”–the kids you see are probably older than any Gen X offspring. Certainly the story mentions no one over the age of 4.

    And the opening story of the 1 yr old and the wagon–looks to me like the 1 yr old’s mother was the rude one, assuming her child should play with someone else’s wagon. Perhaps by her definition, when we say “rude” we mean “people who don’t let us have our way.”

  12. Ponderosa says:

    I don’t know if it’s really gotten worse recently, but I do know that there is A LOT of rude student behavior going on in American schools and that it’s often tolerated.

    Example #1: my fifth-grade Spanish teacher, disliked by many for his rigorous standards, was told to f-off by one girl. He was fired.

    Example #2: my sixth-grade English teacher, a brilliant, nerdy woman who’d just graduated from Mt. Holyoke College, was driven out our our school by a group of tormenting mean girls.

    Example #3: my ninth-grade English teacher, a kindly older man with a degree from Yale, was tormented all year by unruly boys in our class.

    Example #3: my high school German teacher, a gentle older woman from Germany, had no control over the unruly boys in our class. She huddled with a few of us in a corner and tried to teach there.

    Example #4: a nerdy female colleague was driven out of our suburban middle school by cruel students.

    Example #5: one of our kindest, most hard working and brilliant language-arts/history teachers, a three-year veteran, was driven from her classroom in tears two weeks ago by rude, unruly students.

    It is easy –but wrong –to infer that students’ bad behavior stems from malfeasance or rudeness on the part of the teacher. If students disrespect a teacher, it rarely means that she is worthy of this contempt; it often means the kids are being mean, unfair or trying to shake off uncomfortable but reasonable demands the teacher is placing upon them. It seems there’s a tacit understanding in America that, unless you can, like a snake-charmer, neutralize kids’ mischievous impulses by dint of personality and cool lessons –not discipline — that you shouldn’t be teaching. If that’s our attitude, then precious few of us can be teachers.

  13. McSwain says:

    I’d like to teach wherever it is that Roger and Lightly Seasoned teach.

    My students usually do say please and thank you, and they often tell me how much they appreciate me. So in that area, they do have good manners. However, and this is a huge however, they talk in class, both conversationally and blurting out whatever is on their minds, nonstop. This makes it very difficult to get through any kind of direct instruction. For example, I could be in the middle of a sentence about personification, and some kid will just yell out, “Can I fill my water bottle?” or “My foot itches!” I know this is not just my personal classroom management issue, as it is rampant throughout my district. Teachers who have been around longer than I report that it is a fairly new trend. That kind of behavior shows a kind of self-centeredness that we just weren’t allowed to develop when I was in school.

  14. Lightly Seasoned says:

    McSwain: Be very clear about your expectations in that area, warn them once, then throw them out the second time. We teach what we allow. This trend drives me insane, too.

    Mean girls/unruly behavior is manners, I suppose, but it is primarily a power play. I think that’s a much different issue than just rudeness.

  15. I’m with Momof4 – I deal with a lot of kids including my own in a lot of activities and there are a lot of parents who have the 1000 yard stare. They could sit there and watch their kids act out and it’s as if they don’t even see it. And when you see them interacting with their kids you can’t tell who’s the child and the parent. Don’t know where the ones saying kids used to be worse behaved are from and don’t believe it because I see kids who unfortunately don’t even understand that their behavior is wrong and won’t ever find out from their parent(s).

  16. More likely they are just inconsiderate, much like their parents.

  17. I ran into this article on another blog. It is a gross overstatement to label an entire generation of children as rude and then to blame a parenting style for fostering that rudeness, dontcha’ think?

    “The child, especially learns to become the kind of human being that he or she has experiences.” ~ Ashley Montagu

    All the best,


  18. SuperSub says:

    Your experiences seem to be a failure not of parenting but administration. Ultimately, a teacher’s power and authority to discipline is derived from the principal’s office, and without backing byt he principal no teacher has authority. I have a student who routinely skips, walks outs, and when he is there, disrupts class by verbally abusing other students. I give teacher detentions… he never shows up. Any consequence that involves the main office ends up with an assistant principal taking about 20 different referrals and assigning one 2-hour detention for him… one that he often is absent from school for.

  19. My downstairs neighbors are fairly recent graduates, and they feel that if they want to play loud music at 3 am, they’re artists and need to express themselves. Is this common with people this age?

    Our last set of neighbors had the same ideas, but got evicted after the police came too many times.

    My kids don’t behave this way, but then, they were raised right.

  20. I read somewhere that all babies are narcissists, and that one of the goals of child-rearing and education should be to convince the developing individual NOT to be a narcissist, that is, to recognize that other people exist and matter.

    I suspect what a lot of us are seeing are people who never had it sufficiently impressed upon them that “other people matter too.”

    I had neighbors in their early 20s who saw nothing wrong with playing loud music every night, all night. One day, as I was coming home from work, they were lounging on their porch. One of them asked me if their music disturbed me.

    “Well, now that you mention it,” I said, “I am teaching summer classes and need to be up by 6 am to be at work. It does make it a little difficult to sleep when I can hear your stereo bass at 2 am.”

    “Sucks to be you, then!” they called back, laughing.

    Luckily, they were evicted later that summer, after generating one of the worst rodent problems the neighborhood had ever seen.

    People who lack empathy scare me.

  21. The progressive worldview goes back to Rousseau and the Romantic movement, which believed that man was naturally pure and that only civilization corrupts. All that was good flowed from the natural. Now we have to live with the consequences of letting several generations do whatever their feelings dictated (because children’s feelings are pure and natural) and a whole educational sector dedicated to the proposition that education (not to mention civilized behavior) is an easy, natural process that will happen when the child is ready. Adhering to such a belief is easier than believing that parents, schools and society in general needs to work constantly to instill in the oncoming generation both civilized behavior and real knowledge and skills. Of course, that’s hard to do while letting kids believe they are the center of the world and so special that whatever they do is wonderful. Self-esteem, you know… the idea that high-achieving and well-behaved kids had high self-esteem because they were high-achieving and well-behaved, not the reverse, doesn’t seem to have occurred. @#+* those pesky correlation vs. causation issues.

  22. Ponderosa says:

    Momof4 writes, “a whole educational sector dedicated to the proposition that education (not to mention civilized behavior) is an easy, natural process that will happen when the child is ready.”

    Well-said. It is heresy to suggest that learning shouldn’t almost always be fun for every child. There is an outspoken and self-righteous exponent of child-centrism (an art teacher) at my school who glares at me like I’m some kind of child abuser because I demand that student listen to lectures and take notes on such worthless and stultifying subjects at the Enlightenment. She signs her emails, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

  23. Physics Teacher says:

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    For an art teacher that may be true. Problem is that most people will not be artists, and even if they were, we really wouldn’t need an education system anyway.

    Also, I believe the above quote is from Einstein, and knowledge is not something he lacked to begin with.