My middle schooler’s band concert was quite possibly the worst concert I’ve ever attended. Oh, don’t get me wrong. The middle schoolers did a great job. They’ve worked hard all year, and their songs were terrific. It was neat to see the progress they’ve made, and I was proud of my sixth grader and his classmates. No, it wasn’t the kids who made the concert so terrible. It was their parents.
At this particular concert, the audience was so noisy that between songs I had trouble hearing the band director’s comments. Even during the songs the audience was noisy, but it wasn’t as obvious since the music covered up some of that noise. Many people were on their phones, and not just to record the songs. A quick glance down my row revealed at least half the people scrolling through Facebook, texting, or otherwise staring down at their phones while their children played music right in front of them. There was a woman behind me who sighed heavily every time the director spoke, making comments such as, “Get on with it already!” In short, people were just plain rude. It’s as if they couldn’t spare an hour of their precious time for their kids who had been working all year to get to this point.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. The audience was the same way at a recent awards ceremony, although the blower for the AC in the gym was loud enough to mask some of the whispering. During halftime shows for the football season, people walked around, laughing loudly and talking (even shouting) while our marching band performed, not even pretending to watch the show. When the visiting band performed, they were even louder. And as technology becomes more and more pervasive, we accept the fact that the people we’re with will more than likely interrupt a live conversation to check their phone when it beeps. We’ve largely forgotten what it means to be polite. And I, for one, am sick of it. So today I’m requesting something of adults everywhere.
Many have voiced concern over the next generation of kids in America, how they won’t be prepared for adult life and will be so addicted to their phones and video games that they won’t be able to connect with other people. Teachers struggle to get their students to pay attention in class and to respect authority. Kids sass back to parents and teachers in increasingly bolder ways. Whose fault is that? Fellow parents and adults—that’s on us. It’s no wonder so many kids today don’t know how to behave; their parents don’t know how to behave either. We have allowed them to become rude, sassy, and technology-dependent. So now what?
I suggest making “common courtesy” common again. Model for your children the character you’d like them to have. Brush up on social etiquette. Listen when someone is talking to you, especially your kids. If your phone beeps while you’re in the middle of a conversation, ignore it. Better yet, put your phone away during set periods of the day. Make mealtimes and/or evenings tech-free. Limit your kids’ screen access. A fifth grader does not need to have his or her own phone with 24/7 access. Set boundaries for the amount of time they can use technology. While you’re at it, set limits for your own tech use as well. Keep your phone in the car during an evening with friends so you can just focus on them. Retrain yourself on how to really listen, whether in conversation or in a larger group setting like an audience. As a general rule of thumb, if someone else is talking or performing, you should be paying attention by keeping your eyes on the speaker or performers and keeping your mouth shut.
None of this stuff is profound. It should be common knowledge. And certainly, there are adults who model these traits already. Generally, their kids are the ones who stand out as polite and respectful among their peers. If that describes you, thank you. Keep at it. But if you’re reading this with a twinge of guilt, it’s not too late to make some changes. Model good behavior and your kids will follow suit.
And you may as well start with your middle schooler’s band concert.