Why Manners Matter: Providing Social Skills for Our Children
A Surprise Thank You
The other day I was grocery shopping with my middle son, a fifteen year old. We ended up in line behind a trio of teenagers who were buying soda and chips. As we waited our turn, we watched them carrying on with each other as they paid for their items. Finally they were done, and, as they left I made the realization that they had never once acknowledged the woman who rang up their purchases. My son noticed it, too. He said, "Thanks for teaching me manners, Mom." Now, my son is a normal teenager, prone to trouble and outbursts. To hear him say that was a true surprise.
On the way home, we talked more about what had happened. This, was, of course, after we had paid for our purchases, thanked the woman, and left the store. I asked him why he thought manners were important and he said something I hadn't considered before. He said that it was tough being a kid and knowing how to act around adults or strangers. He went on to say that being taught manners was like being given a script to help know what to say, where to look, what to do with one's hands. Otherwise, he said, kids are left trying to make something up and a lot of them just don't bother to engage adults and new people at all. Then he thanked me again for teaching him.
I have three sons, all teenagers now. While they are not always mannerly at home, I am always impressed by the way they behave when we are out and about. They have good manners. Almost too good. But I am no super parent and neither is my husband. So, how did we teach them so well? We started early. Really early. I had heard or read somewhere that the things parents try to teach their children may take years to bear fruit, but that the effort would be worthwhile. I never once told my kids to say thank you or please. But, from day one, I said thank you and please, and excuse me and sorry, to them. Just as a part of conversation. I'm sure we taught them to shake hands, etc. when they started walking and would visit grandma's house or go to church. I didn't realize I was providing them with a script they would use the rest of their lives.
"The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any."
In the almost seventeen years I've been a parent, I've seen many things bear fruit a long time after they were modeled, or taught. It never ceases to amaze me. Good manners is by far the one that has most impressed me. I watch my kids interact with adults, looking them in the eye, being respectful, and saying the right things, and I still wonder sometimes how it happened. I don't ever wonder if it was worth it, though. My boys may get in just as much trouble as other kids, but when it comes time to deal with the consequences, their manners make everything easier. They know how to apologize, how to take responsibility, how to treat authority figures with respect. And they earn that respect back. They are given a voice, acknowledged, in a world where teenagers are often ignored or even reviled. The script of manners, of respectful and caring words and actions, matters. It matters.