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Are We Raising Unfriendly Kids?

Posted Feb 06 2013 8:14am

Colin drawing My son has always been an outgoing, chatty guy. He earned the nickname “Mr. Mayor” as a toddler, and it still holds true today. He loves greeting people, and he’s as comfortable shooting the breeze with adults as he is with his peers. And he is shockingly good at remembering people’s names (much better than his dad).

But lately I’ve been noticing that when he says hello to kids he knows – whether it’s a friend from his after-school program or a former daycare buddy that we bump into when we drop Mimi off – most of them either (a) look away, (b) look at him, but ignore him completely, or (c) look at him like he is speaking a foreign language.

And they don’t respond or acknowledge him. At all.

To his credit, Buddy seems rather unfazed by it. But you know what? It bothers me.

Now let me back up and say I definitely understand some kids are really shy, or introverted, or there may be developmental issues involved. I totally get that. In fact, I was extremely shy and quiet as a little girl.

But it bugs me how the parents – who are usually within earshot – never intervene to nudge, prompt or encourage their child to be friendly (and polite) in return.

If they know their child is shy, couldn’t the parent respond for him or her and say something to acknowledge Buddy’s greeting, simply as a way of demonstrating good manners and setting an example for their child? Like, “[Name], your friend said hi,” or “[Name], say hi to your friend.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought that was Social Etiquette 101. Someone says hello to you, and you respond, even it’s just with a nod, smile or wave … especially if it’s someone you know or recognize. Isn’t this a behavior we want to instill and nurture in our kids?

However, this got me thinking about my own actions and it makes me wonder if we, as a society, have become a little suspicious of friendliness. Think about it: how many times do you pass someone on the street or in the hall at work – whether it’s a person who looks vaguely familiar or a complete stranger – and you suddenly whip out your phone or go searching for your keys so you don’t have to make eye contact and potentially acknowledge that person? Or you walk past another person and keep your eyes focused straight ahead and pretend you don’t notice him or her?

And admit it, aren’t you a little skeptical or wary when a random stranger starts chatting your ear off when riding in an escalator or waiting in line at the drugstore?

Yup, I am totally guilty of doing this … along with about 99% of the population.

But still, is this how we want our kids to interact (or not interact) with the world? Are they observing, and mimicking, this behavior? I’m not sure I want my kids to think that being friendly is “weird.”

I wonder if Buddy will eventually notice how some kids are basically ignoring him, and if that will slowly discourage him from being so friendly and outgoing in the future. And that would kill me, because it is such a a major part of his personality. It’s what makes him who he is. My Mr. Mayor.

I know he is lucky to be so at ease with people, to have the confidence and chutzpah to chat with other kids and parents and clerks at the grocery store. So I will continue to support and encourage my social butterfly, even though I’m so tempted to tell him that it was rude for so-and-so to ignore him. Instead, I try to be positive and focus on his good manners and his good behavior. I comment on how nice it was that he said hello to his friend. I tell him how proud I am when he makes polite conversation with adults, or holds the door open at daycare for the family coming in after us.

Because the ability to be open and sociable is an innate quality and – in my opinion – is a wonderful life skill to have.

Has anyone else experienced this? Do you think it’s unfriendliness or shyness? Should parents intervene?

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