Recently, my middle schooler attended a friend’s birthday party at Benihana. I asked him what they did the whole time since I wasn’t sure how the boys would stay entertained throughout the dinner. “Mom, everyone had their phones out and we played games.” Ah, I should have known!
My son doesn’t have a cell phone, but the other kids did, so he was able to get in on the fun. However, the idea of this scene didn’t sit well with me. Envisioning the boys around the dinner table staring at their phones doesn’t exactly exude good manners.
Good etiquette isn’t just about knowing which fork to use at a fancy dinner party. It also involves having a real conversation and showing respect to others in a social setting. In fact, there are a host of reasons for our teens to learn and practice good manners.
Why Good Manners Matter
At the core, good manners reflect respect for ourselves and other people. When we say “please” and “thank you,” we’re taking the time to make someone else feel appreciated.
In addition, “Many middle schoolers are looking for volunteer opportunities, attending parties, and starting jobs like babysitting,” says Amanda Horelick, the co-founder of Elementary Etiquette in Boca Raton, Florida. “This is an important time in a young person’s life, and it’s crucial that they present themselves well, act courteously, show respect, and put their best foot forward.”
Horelick also believes that rudeness, online and in real life, can be offset by teaching our kids good manners. “People hide behind anonymity on the internet and say horrible things,” she says. Enlightening our kids about proper etiquette is one way of counteracting this unfortunate trend.
By teaching our children how to treat others, we are helping to create a kinder, more respectful community.
How to Teach Good Manners
It’s our job as parents to model good manners for our kids every day. But if you’re struggling to get your kids to improve their manners, consider enlisting some professional guidance.
There may be a reason why etiquette classes are popping up more and more these days. While we can rely on old-fashioned nagging to get our children to use their manners, an etiquette coach can make manners training fun and relatable for our kids.
“Quite often, especially with pre-teens and teens, it’s better for this information to come from a professional rather than a parent,” says Horelick. “Plus, when kids get to practice these skills with their peers, the lessons tend to stick.”
Tips from an Etiquette Coach
Iris Doyle, a certified etiquette consultant who runs Simple Manners in California, offers her students hands-on experiences to practice etiquette skills. Her interactive dining classes, for example, give the children a chance to sit down to a real meal in order to learn skills ranging from how to use their utensils properly to how to hold a conversation.
Doyle uses role-playing exercises and a workbook designed to help students build confidence so they will be more comfortable in social situations.
“I teach the basic underlying meaning of being nice to people and being cordial,” says Doyle. “Good manners will take you a long way in life. Even with technology, we still need face to face communication. I show the kids the importance of a smile on your face and how that positively impacts others.”
Some of the areas where teens may benefit from etiquette instruction include:
- Making eye contact
- Greeting people
- Learning how to remember people’s names
- Behaving at a meal
- Giving a sincere apology
- Writing a thank you note
- Giving and receiving compliments
- Being a good guest and host at parties
- Practicing good sportsmanship
- Telephone and social media manners
“Parents recognize that their kids need practice and guidance in these areas of socialization,” says Horelick.
Whether your teen learns etiquette from you or enrolls in a class, you’ll want to provide plenty of opportunities to practice the skills they’re learning. That way, they’ll have the confidence they need to rise to any occasion.