A WELL-BRED person always takes the side of the weak agaisnt the strong, but nevertheless Miss Manners has promised to say something on behalf of children against their parents.
It is: Rudeness to children counts as rudeness. The fact that people are smaller and blood relatives does not mean that it is open season on insulting them. Besides, it teaches them the technique and thus leads to such tedious exchange as "Don't you dare talk to Mommy like that"/"But that's what you said to me"/"That's different"/"Why is it different?" and so on.
What makes it different is that when children do it, parents call it "sassing," and when parents do it, parents call it "discipline."
Now, heaven knows that Miss Manners is not against disciplining children. We are all born charming, frank and spontaneous, and must be civilized before we are fit to participate in society. In a fit of exasperation, Miss Manners once demanded of a 6-year-old person how it could be so childish, and was forced to admit the justice of its reply, "I'm a child." But admission of this stale is a temporary excuse at best, and one which one's loved ones should help one to overcome.
However, humiliation is neither a proper nor an effective method for disciplining children.Personal insults and public rebukes should be avoided.
It is one thing, for example, if a well-meaning parent in the sanctity of the home delivers a mild reprimand, "You do that once more and I'll kill you." It is quite another thing if other people are present, or if the remark is personalized, as in, "Get it through your thick head that if you do that once more . . . ," etc.
Miss Manners rules out the use of invective under any circumstamces. The other problem - the question of going public - is more complex. Children invite public denouncement by their many social sins of omission and commission, and are stimulated to produce more if they think they are safe from criticism.
Therefore, Miss Manners considers it essential to child-rearing that every parent develop a code the children understand but outsiders do not.
Anyone who has ever been married has had experience with such codes. One person at a social gathering smiles and lifts the eyebrows very slightly in the direction of his or her spouse. It is nothing that anyone else, including the hosts, cannot be allowed to see. And yet it clearly means, "I can't stand this anymore - let's get out of here."
Similarly, a parent must develop a way of smiling at a child, perhaps with narrowed eyes, or a way of holding the child's wrist, which conveys to the child that he is storing up serious trouble. One also needs a way of staring brightly at the child that prompts him to search his mind for the phrase, such as "How do you do?" or "Thank you" or "I'm sorry I broke your lamp," which he has neglected to utter.
As an incentive, the child might be encouraged to develop a way of looking sadly at the parent, which will remind the parent not to commit other rudeness in public, such as answering questions that were asked of the child, or falsely citing the child's needs as a social excuse for not doing something the parent dosen't want to do.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: I have several physician friends and when I introduce them and their wives at formal gathering, the "Dr. and Mrs." title seems just fine. But I have a more troublesome set of friends - a couple in which she is a doctor and her husband is not. I introduced them as "Dr. and Mr." at our last dinner party and he winced as if his hiatal hernia were acting up. How can I properly introduce this couple without discriminating against my female friend or doing irreparable damage to her husband's ego? (KEY OFF)(KEYWORD): Miss Manners fails to understand why a female doctor is any more troublesome to society than male doctors naturally are, nor why a man should be more abashed than a woman at being married to someone who takes money from the sick. Perhaps his hiatal hernia was acting up, in which case he should see a doctor.
Q: What are "18 button gloves?" I read that they should be worn with ball dresses.
A: These are white gloves which riveting show when the wearer slowly peels them off before she can take a drink. They are called "18 button" because they have three pearl buttons at each wrist.
Q: I know that picking the teeth is considered gauche in this country, but other cultures are more sensible about the discomfort of food stuck in the mouth. What do you think?
A: Miss Manners realizes that dislodging food from the teeth is one of life's great sensual pleasures, and believes that great sensual pleasures should be enjoyed in private.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white letter paper) to Miss Manners, Style Section, The Washington Post.