Do kids seem to be ruder and more ill-mannered than ever?

Some say today's typical young child is mannerless. Why, in a culture with a tradition of graciousness, altruism and an outgoing resolve to do for others, do children suddenly come across as lacking manners?Two examples:

- Eight preschool children sit together at lunch. Two fruit trays grace the table. Each has several kinds of fruit to choose from. One child stands up, leans across the entire table and grabs all the grapes off both plates with both hands. He spills three glasses of milk into the laps of his friends. He neither says "I'm sorry," nor does he make a move to help clean up.

The essence of manners is to put other people before ourselves. That's the element that seems to have suddenly evaporated. The new trend is "me first" - before anyone and everything.

Removing the offending child from the table and taking his plate away until the other children have finished will teach him to think about being first all the time.

- In a crowded fast-food restaurant, a child screams for what he wants. Because mom isn't listening, he kicks her. Mom cowers to his needs. Does her response help him understand anything but "me first?" If mom had corrected the child with a single embarrassing moment, a quick swat and a fast trip home empty-handed, he might have learned something: The cost of assaulting mom is a great big loss for him.

Bad manners are not learned. Bad manners are natural, selfish impulses that children are allowed to have. It's not a matter of training; it's a matter of adult neglect.

Curbing poor manners and developing good ones requires placing real limits on the child. A caring adult may have a tug of war with a child to bring about change and to forbid a habitual me-first attitude. It often starts with taking away ordinary things and privileges, and saying "no" a lot.

Sometimes that's tougher for parents than for children. But teaching good manners is not that difficult. Adults should decide what is appropriate and stick to it. But just telling a child "no" and requiring him to follow certain vague and disconnected rules won't work. Teaching manners goes a lot deeper than words.

Instructing children about the worth of others and showing them how to be gracious and respectful to those they meet, both in public and private, whether they return good manners or not, is a good beginning.

Simple training means always saying "please," "thank you," "I'm sorry," "excuse me."

Teaching manners may begin in the negative with restrictions and consequences, but the outcome is always a big "I love you."