About every 20 minutes or so growing up, my mother would tell me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s not likely that her mother had to tell her that, so I think she heard other moms use that old nugget on their kids and jumped on the wagon. I thought she didn’t need to repeat it as often as she did, but telling her so would have brought out the spatula.
Most of us from my era are very familiar with Mom’s tool of choice. Oh, sure, wooden mixing spoons, fly swatters, and pretty much anything close at hand could be employed when needed, but the spatula was perfect for the job and we both knew it. Worse, every mom in the neighborhood had one and was free to use it, no matter whose kid needed a good thwacking. Today, any time spent out among the public leaves one with the sense that, with few exceptions, old-fashioned discipline is no longer a popular parenting tool.
It’s interesting that good deeds by kids are not just notable, but are so infrequently encountered that their rarity inspires written accounts and television news coverage. Social media formats are perfect avenues for descriptions of these events and often provide video examples of kids whose parents actually did their jobs. From time to time, kids doing the right thing are featured on the evening news. Why is the responsible, kind and generous behavior of a local youth newsworthy? Because, due to its rarity, it is not the norm and it is wonderfully heartwarming.
For the people I raised and the very few I have been invited to counsel, I insisted on following only two commandments. They represent the 10 in condensed form and are:
- Speak the truth.
- Do the right thing.
I believe we humans are designed with an innate sense of right and wrong. We know instinctively that dumping old people out of their wheelchairs is wrong, but opening doors for them is good. Donating to food pantries is good, but donating Brussels sprouts is just mean. Humans need only to understand the concept of consequences to get the whole picture. In my opinion, that, my friends, is where a few parents have fallen short.
Many young people act as though they have been protected from boundaries and consequences. Timeout is less a consequence of bad behavior than it is a welcome respite from a nagging parent. “Because I said so,” accompanied by the real threat of consequence, is mostly lost to history. Thankfully, we have evolved to the point where nonphysical consequences are kinder and suitably effective. Spatulas are relegated to skillets.
I’ve met some terrific kids — helpful, courteous and industrious. They are a joy and give me hope for a future when I’m not here to keep things straight. Without exception, their parents are the same way. Speaking for all civilized Harpswellians, you guys ought to get Nobel prizes for parenting.
If you encounter a group of youngsters and they just silently stare at you, find a mirror and take care of the object of their attention. They are being properly raised and can’t, at the moment, find something nice to say.
Oh, and check your fly.
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.