Well, it seems at least one person agrees with me. In a fascinating article over at Huffington Post, Dr. Douglas Fields, a neurobiologist, says we have indeed strayed far from the gentility of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave It to Beaver,” the era in which I grew up. But he goes way beyond that, explaining that rudeness is actually neurotoxic, and manners help us cope with the stress of living in large societies. He also emphasizes how important a developing child’s environment is — not just for the first five or ten years, but through the first two decades of life. Verbal abuse causes actual physical changes and “enduring psychiatric risks” in a child’s brain. He cites a study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, saying “exposure to verbal abuse from peers is associated with elevated psychiatric symptoms and corpus callosum abnormalities” and a second study that concluded “parental verbal abuse was more strongly associated with these detrimental effects on brain development than was parental physical abuse.” So much for the old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
It’s good reading for old fuddy duddies who think their ideas about civility seem hopelessly old-fashioned, and also for parents who need a heads up about the importance of teaching manners and mutual respect in the home.