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Beyond Please and Thank You: Basic Etiquette for Teens and Young Adults

When our children are little, we teach them to say please and thank you, to share, and to mind their manners at the table. But once they have those habits in place, it can be easy to forget that there are grownup manners they need to learn too, basic etiquette if you will.

Of course, they pick up some of these habits just by being around well-mannered adults. But as all parents know, kids aren’t always paying attention. So when I taught a high school communication class, I always included a brief unit on etiquette for teens. After all, my course standards included both business etiquette and interpersonal communication. I was charged with not only with helping my students become better public speakers, but also with helping them communicate well with others and make a good impression out in the world—whether in the classroom, on the job, or meeting their college roommate’s parents for the first time. After all, good manners are important.

Basic Etiquette for Teenagers

Here’s what teens need to know about:

Thank you notes

According to Emily Post Etiquette, a thank you note is not always necessary for gifts received in person, but a well-crafted, handwritten expression is always thoughtful. But even kids who have been writing thank yous since they could hold a crayon might not realize that it is also appropriate, and often advantageous, to send a note of gratitude after a job interview. To learn the hows and whys of this etiquette for teens (and adults), The Muse offers some helpful templates.

Hostess gifts

As our kids get older, they will be invited to parties, dinners, and weekend visits at the homes of friends from school. Just as a nice thank you note leaves a good impression, so does a thoughtful hostess gift. When I teach this basic etiquette to teens, I always counsel my students to give a small gift with a personal touch, such as a bouquet of their own mother’s favorite flowers, a box of chocolates or pastries from a local business, or a sampling of specialty food made in their hometown. 

Dining out

In addition to the basic table manners they learned as children, there is some basic etiquette teens need to remember when dining out or at a friend’s home.

  • Always be polite to the server. Even nice kids should be reminded not to take a frustrating dining experience out on the person serving their meal. Things like slow service or undercooked food are often beyond the server’s control.
  • Wait until everyone has been served to begin eating. But also, don’t allow a server to take your plate unless everyone has finished eating. When the waiter asks, “Can I get this out of your way?” Or “Can I take your plate?” A simple “No, thank you,” will allow dinner companions to finish their meal without feeling rushed.
  • When everyone in your party is finished eating, a knife and fork placed parallel on the plate pointing upwards between 11 and 12 o’clock or in an X shape across the plate signals the waiter to clear the table.
  • Whether it is a five-star restaurant or a food truck, it’s always important to tip your server.
  • Avoid gross or vulgar talk at the table.
  • Finally, teens should learn basic table settings so that they feel comfortable in any dining situation.


Old school rules for introductions include things like presenting younger people to older people. While that sort of etiquette still matters in some situations, the most important thing for young people to remember is that introductions are important because they make everyone feel more at ease.

  • To facilitate conversation between newly introduced people, a good introduction also includes a conversation starter. For instance, “Nana, this is my roommate George Tilapia. George likes Fleetwood Mac as much as you do.”
  • Whether introducing or being introduced, it is important for teens to remember to speak clearly and with vocal energy. Nothing is more off-putting than a lackluster greeting.
  • And no matter how much the rules of etiquette may change, a firm handshake, eye contact, and a pleasant, “Nice to meet you” are always, always important.

Talking the talk

In this day of causal everything, young people sometimes forget that some language is not appropriate in every situation. For instance:

  • The use of slang and colloquialisms can be confusing for people from a different culture or a different generation.
  • Curse words and off-color expressions (even mild ones like “that sucks”) can communicate a lack of respect or a lack understanding of a situation. It can leave people feeling uncomfortable. When a student told me she was tired AF, I politely but firmly explained why that isn’t an appropriate thing to say to a teacher.
  • Overuse of conversation fillers such as like, ummmm, ya know, and kinda can communicate a lack of confidence or maturity.

As with most things, some of the rules of etiquette have changed over time (hello, white jeans after Labor Day). But since the primary purpose of manners is to show consideration and make others feel comfortable and appreciated, the basics of good etiquette will always be important.

Currently taking some time off from teaching, Laura Hanby Hudgens enjoys writing from her home in Arkansas and taking care of her garden and her little flock of chickens. Her little flock of children have all grown or are mostly grown, but she still enjoys taking care of them too.

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