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When my kids were little we called it a ‘proper hello’. We also had a ‘proper goodbye’. They had parts. Like looking the person right in the eye and deliberately addressing them. It was not formal, but it was deliberate. It showed intention. We insisted on it so our kids got in the habit of requiring themselves to acknowledge other people.

Lots of kids today are not held to any such standard. I used to say hello to a little boy I saw every morning, but his mom never insisted he say hello back. She rolled her eyes and said, “Kids,” but she did not insist. This boy’s parents did not seem to have high expectations of him in that regard, and I’ll guess in any regard as it turns out. He was allowed to let his fears drive his behavior. It’s hard to say hello to grown-ups.

He’s a teenager now and he’s failing school, not interested in much of anything. He’s soft and slow and unengaged. Nothing much matters to him, it seems.

I cannot help but wonder if being expected to say hello figures in. Shouldn’t he hold himself to some kind of standard in life? Maybe not being required to say hello is indicative of a life of not being required to rise to enough challenges. To face down enough fears. If we don’t hold our children to higher standards, they will not hold themselves to higher standards either.

Who knows? Whenever I see children allowed to disobey their parent’s requests to be polite and their parents allow them to indulge those fears, I wonder if we aren’t creating the kind of loneliness and lack of connection, the apathy, that seems to be growing in our culture.