What Our Kids Should Know About Manners
I remember going out to dinner with my wife and another couple and their two young boys, a year or so before we were even married. The boys, probably aged 5 and 3, were less than civilized and I remember cringing in horror as they threw food, fought with each other, and melted down over not getting what they asked for. I crammed all my food as quickly as possible in hopes that it would somehow speed up the pace of the meal for everyone, but alas, I was forced to endure the entire lunch hour with this two-kid wrecking crew. At the end of the meal, the floor under our table was a disaster, the parents worn out, and I remember saying to my then fiance, "Our kids will never act like that." If only I knew.
Fast forward 8 years and we had three children of our own, all under the age of 5, and all just as rambunctious as those two little boys. I distinctly remember heading out to a local 'lobster joint' for a special dinner with the kids in tow. Before the night was over, our oldest little princess ended up on the back of the corner booth, crawling around my head, while another spilled a large glass of water, and the third found himself under the table. As we left the war zone at the end of the night, I muttered, "That is is, we will not go out again until these kids are older and have some manners!" As we walked to the car I pictured an eight-year younger me smugly pointing out that "our kids would never be like that." LIfe has a funny way of pointing things out to us.
Our kids grew up to be fine upstanding citizens, and learned plenty of manners, mostly thanks to their mother. But I often wonder to myself, what do our kids know about manners these days? Do we teach them in school any longer? Do friends help remind each other what is a behavior that reflects good manners and what isn't? Does the technological world that we live in even give us a chance and showing good manners to one another? I tend to think we've pushed the idea that manners are important to the backburner with our children, in an effort to just keep up with today's fast paced world.
For the past 20 years I have been involved with middle school students in the non-profit sector. I've seen fashions change, music choices evolve, and socially acceptable behaviors morph right before my eyes. I am amazed that todays teens not only find it socially acceptable to stand in a circle, 'talking' to one another, while each has their face pointed down at the cell phone in front of them, texting several other friends who aren't even there. Many households I know enjoy movie nights, while each member has a cell phone, iPad, notebook, or other portable media device on their lap...often times instant messaging each other across the room. Now, don't get me wrong, I love technology. I'm just wondering how we best help our kids understand good manners, when everything around us seems to help us put up a technological hedge around us.
I fancy myself a good dad, but often find myself having to make a mental note NOT to check my iPhone while helping my son with his homework, or not to grab my iPad when we're all about to sit down and watch a show together. Our kids learn what we show them, not always just the things we say. Whenever possible, I want to look for ways to help my children, among other things, show good manners. But what exactly are good manners?
While searching around the internet, I was less than thrilled with all the resources that seemed to make the concept of good manners be overly fancy or stuffy. Shouldn't we be able to help our kids be kind, respectful, smart, considerate and helpful without making a big to-do over it? I simply want my son to understand that it's good to say hello to an adult that greets you at the door when you go to visit friends, or to look at someone when they ask you a question, rather than have his head down in his phone. They should be able to help make friends feel welcome when they come to visit, and get through a meal without stabbing their steak or belching the alphabet.
Some people get it, I think. If my kids were younger, and we lived in a place where they offered a course like the Everyday Manners For Kids series, I might be inclined to send them. I appreciate that they say good manners are not about being fancy, but about instilling confidence in our children to help others feel comfortable in all social situations. That's a thought all parents can get behind and have reinforced by people who want to help teach our kids good manners. I like that. I think I will adopt that as my definition for what good manners are for our kids -- helping them to be confident so they can help others around them feel comfortable too. That's what I think our kids should know about good manners.