When my 16-year-old son gets invited to a friend’s home, he and I often become locked in the same bittersweet battle. It’s not about if his homework and chores are done, how long he can stay, or whether his pal’s parents are home. While he’d like to bolt out the door immediately, I usually ask him to wait so I can send him with a plate of treats.
“No! I want to go now,” my son says.
teaching teens manners
I understand where he’s coming from. But I also think it’s good manners to bring something with you—especially if you’ve been invited for dinner or you’re spending the night. As anyone who’s attempted to keep up with the appetites of growing teens knows, any extra food is appreciated.
“No one else ever brings stuff. Why should I?” he asks, exasperated.
I get it. Growing up, my mother always sent us off with batches of homemade Rice Krispies treats. (True confession: I remember being annoyed when she’d ask that I remember to bring home her pan.) But now I understand that by supplying us with sugary snacks, she was also providing us with a lesson in etiquette.
By starting now, maybe Sam won’t be the kind of guy who shows up at a barbecue or holiday party empty-handed. I certainly don’t think it’s always necessary, nor do I expect it in return, but it’s a nice gesture, and if it only takes an extra few minutes, why not?
Liz Alterman is a mom of three boys and a writer. She is currently working on a memoir chronicling her adventures in unemployment.
Whenever I go to a friend’s house, my mom insists that I bring a plateful of Rice Krispies treats, brownies, or any other dessert she feels like making.
This seems like a great thing to do, right? Wrong.
mom, It’s Time to stop
This annoys everyone involved. First of all, it always takes time to package the food. Stacking brownies on a plate, covering them in plastic wrap, and maybe even putting a bow on top takes time. And waiting for my mom to finish making food for my friends is just very irritating.
Next we have the logistics problem: If I sleep over at my friend’s house, and I’m carrying a sleeping bag, video game controllers, fresh clothes for the morning, and all my other stuff, the last thing I want is another thing to hold. The addition of a dessert usually leads to awkward trips to the front door where I need to walk very carefully to make sure I don’t drop anything.
Another problem we have is the plate situation. Whenever we bring a dessert, the plate almost always gets left behind at my friend’s house. We then have to pick it up later, and nobody wants to do that.
None of my friends bring dessert to my house when they come, and I think it’s time for us to stop.
Sam Alterman is a high school junior. He enjoys playing football and baseball and riding roller coasters.
Liz and Sam are both taking considerate approaches to a situation that could seem simple at first glance but clues us in to a common conflict between parents and teens: The parent wants to share their values, and the teen wants to make independent decisions.
how can teens show good manners?
It’s clear that Liz values etiquette. I’d encourage Liz to begin bridging the gap by considering what other thoughts, words, and behaviors exemplify manners. Which of these is Sam demonstrating regularly? Etiquette can take different forms and come in different packages, varying by the situation and personal preference. Sam can show generosity in a variety of ways, and some may feel more comfortable and natural than others. He is figuring out what feels best for him, and it’s meaningful for Liz to recognize his efforts and skills.
Sam took some awesome first steps by clearly naming his feelings and his observation of what is happening. Next, I’d encourage him to consider his needs so he can make clear requests. Sam can think about what he values in this situation. For example, “I need space to decide what it means to be a good friend,” or “I need choice about whether or not I take snacks.” This model is adapted from Nonviolent Communication, a conflict resolution strategy, and its 4-Step Process. Clearly naming feelings can help make communication between teens and their parents clear, open, and effective. (Google it for more info.)
If and when it feels fun for Sam to contribute snacks, and easy for Liz to help, I say go for it!
As a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, Courtney Harris guides parents and supports tweens, teens, and young adults in finding their voice, growing in confidence, and thriving. Find her at courtneyharriscoaching.com.