The contract of public behavior

The other day I picked up my kids after a late rehearsal. I was shocked to see they were clowning around, making noise, jumping up and down outside their school to some private game, and generally running amok.

They got into the car. I didn’t drive off, but turned the engine off instead and turned around to face them.

“What on earth do you think you were doing?” I asked.

“We were bored,” my son replied sheepishly. He knew immediately what I was talking about.

“What are you wearing?” I asked.

“Our school uniforms,” he said slowly.

“Where were you standing?” I asked, commenting on the obvious again.

“Outside the school,” he said.

I took a deep breath. “When you wear that uniform, you know you are representing the school, don’t you?”

My kids nodded.

“You also know that everyone around here knows you are my children, don’t you?”

They nodded again. They were starting to look very unhappy. The penny was dropping. Hard.

“When you behave like hooligans, in your school uniform, outside your school like that, you are disrespectful to your school. Your school, where the teachers take their time and effort to teach you and care for you! You just made your school look bad, and you made everyone who goes to your school look bad too, because people who saw you in your uniforms connected your behaviour with the school and its students.”

I continued. “You also disrespect me. You make people think that I can’t be bothered to raise my kids properly, that my kids are hooligans and not brought up properly at all. That makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed, two things I do not ever want to feel in relation to my kids.”

The kids looked at me, very quiet.

I sighed, then said very quietly and slowly, “I don’t ever want to see you behave like that again. When you wait for me you will wait quietly and sensibly, and stand neatly and politely waiting for me to come. I want to be proud of the way you behave in public in your uniforms, not ashamed. Am I being perfectly clear?”

“Yes Mum.”

Ever since that day, I’ve never had to be ashamed of them again. They understand that their public behavior is a reflection of themselves, their school and their family, and they don’t want to feel that bad about themselves ever again.

Our kids need to know what behavior is expected of them, especially when they represent their school or another institution. Nobody wants to see kids behaving badly.

Public behavior is important. It reflects who our kids are, and the people and places that have put their time and effort into raising them. Our kids owe the responsibility of making these people and institutions proud in return. That is part of the contract of a civilized society.

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