We are all aware of how important civility and common courtesy are when standing in airport lines or shopping on Black Friday.  We have rules of engagement in sports, norms for business meetings, golf course courtesy, phone courtesy, and driving courtesy. Most teachers post behavior norms in their classrooms, requiring student compliance.

And yet, on social media, the internet, and television, we have all observed adults engaged in irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric, lashing out at others in anger, belittling and presuming upon those with differing political or social views. This behavior has been so front and center lately that is appears to be becoming the new normal. Our youth are taking it all in. None could argue that observing adults acting in this way can be unsettling to a child, rocking their sense of security.

Recently, I watched several hours of congressional hearings for the president’s cabinet nominees. This is a time for tough questions and they are to be expected. One should also expect an intelligent, civil discourse. There was much of this kind of discussion.

However, the way some questions were asked was troubling. Civility and courtesy were absent. Questions were asked with an attitude and voice and tone that I would have never have allowed in our home when raising our four boys. I would not have allowed them to speak to another human in that way.

My first thoughts were…Have we lost respect for people? Is this what we are choosing to model for our youth? Do we no longer have norms of common courtesy? Do they think speaking like this is acceptable and justified?


–behavior marked by polished manners or respect for others–

Last week, Kara Powell of the Fuller Youth Institute in Pasadena, California posted an article that is well worth reading, especially if you have teenagers in your home…Helping Teenagers Be the Best Neighbors in a Divided Nation 

Powell suggests pursuing conversations with teens and presents a list of questions to ask them. I asked my 12 and 14-year-old grandsons the following:

Question: 1) How would you describe the climate in our country these days?

Answer #1: You mean the weather?

[No—Kind of how the people are feeling.]

Answer #2: “It’s sad that people can’t respect each other.”


Question: What do you wish God would do in and for our country?

Answer #1: “Help people respect our leaders and each other.”

Answer #2: “Help us acknowledge what other people say. Be willing to listen to their thoughts and opinions.”

Hey, all you adults out there! Kids are watching us…and listening.

So, what should we do? How can we ensure that the young people in our homes (who will grow up to be big people) learn how to treat others in any situation? Whether you have toddlers or teens, the following guidelines can help teach the concepts of respect, courtesy, and civility. (Modify and adjust to meet the developmental needs of your children.)

  • Discuss the meanings of respect, courtesy, and civility. Give examples and non-examples.
  • Model how we should talk to someone with differing political or social views (or differing opinions at the Lego table!)
  • Role play common scenarios—conversations with someone at school or in other public settings.
  • Take time to discuss real conversations and their outcomes. What could have been said or done differently to show respect to the other person?
  • Teach the meaning of presumption—how to recognize it and how to guard against it.
  • Encourage dialogue of ideas and philosophies in the home.
  • Practice listening skills. Whether your children are toddlers or teens, we should model and teach the art of listening to others.
  • Discuss ways we can find common ground with those of differing political and social views. (such as, helping the poor and serving the elderly)
  • Practice how to respectfully ask questions with a tone and inflection that speaks of respect for the other person.
  • Require a civil tone of all family members–even when angry or upset. No profanity allowed.
  • Pray with your children for our leaders in schools, churches, and government.
  • Take your children to God’s Word to evaluate what they are hearing. Just because a smart person is saying something that they believe is true—it doesn’t mean it is. How does it match up to what we know to be true from Scripture?

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.

 –I Peter 3:8