Your Manners are Showing!

A parent came to me to report her adolescent son invited a few friends for an afternoon of fun at their house.  They boys played video games, played basketball, and watched a movie, and had popcorn, snacks. In spite of all the fun, the parent/host reported that only one of the six said “Hi, Mrs…, or said “thank you” for the host’s kindnesses and snacks provided, while the others failed in their greeting, tended to help themselves to the refrigerator and the snacks in the cabinet without asking, and overall showed not manners.   Then the host understood why. The parents of these same boys failed to greet the host when they came to retrieve their children; and did not even get out of the car to show their appreciation with a “thank you” to the host for caring their children over the past several hours.

We can wax nostalgic about how life was better back when.  In the good ol’ days when people were friendly, kind and showed good manners – life seemed to be simpler and there was presumed “family values”.  Can it be that we have lost the consideration of others and manners, and respect and a sense of the greater community?  Is it that we think manners don’t matter anymore?  Maybe manners are not important anymore. Trivial?  I beg to differ.  For those of you who are old enough to have watched the TV show growing up called “Leave it to Beaver” enjoyed the sitcom that aired from 1957-1970s of an all-American family living in Ohio – wise father Ward, loving mother June, teen-age son Wally and 8-year-old Theodore as “Beaver“.  The show provided “life lessons,” “cause and effect” behavior discussions, with rewards and punishments, and logical and applied consequences.  The show showed examples, among other things, lessons of earning enough money to “buy” their own bicycle, lessons of task completion, etc.  June is a typical television “good mom” who prepared meals for her family and attended her sons’ school events.  She is kind and often mediated between her husband and children. Ward was the understanding disciplinarian who doled out punishment when the boys strayed, or explained how their behavior was socially unacceptable!  The horror! Can you believe that parents would explain their child’s socially unacceptable behavior?

What do good manners provide?  Children who learned good manners (whose parents nagged about showing good manners) were better able to negotiate life and institutions, speak to adults, and knew how to behave in varied settings.  It turns out that manners and other socially enforced rules of politeness not only help train us, unconsciously, to be better members of society and its institutions, but also “rewire and strengthen networks in the brain.” It definitely does make me feel better to think of table manners as “habits and practices that help us reinforce our best intuitions and inculcate moral habits.”

My life experience also supports the premise that polite, considerate, and courteous children are more likable and more likely to get teacher’s attention, have more friends, have a sense of success, and feel more self-secure.

Maybe in today’s society the rules of what is deemed socially unacceptable are ambiguous.  Maybe not!  Children have to be taught right and wrong (your values a parent) usually between the ages of 2 and 12/13 years of age.  This is best because adolescents already know everything.  You won’t teach them too much in a traditional sense, after hormones kick in.  The lessons of right and wrong in adolescence.

I still think it is rude not to greet someone, even if it is just in passing.  I still think it is rude to not say “thank you” to the person holding the door for you as you walk through it talking on your cell phone.  I still think it is rude to throw your trash or dirty baby diapers from your car into the parking lot.  I think it is rude to hold up traffic while you finish your text.  It is rude to have a loud conversation on your phone in public –not considering others who may not want to listen.  I think it is rude to play loud music in your car that disturbs others walking on the street.  I still think it is rude to allow children to be unruly in public with no attempt at discipline from the parent.  I still think it is rude for children not to greet known adults with a simple “hello”.   I think it is rude to not say “please” and “thank you” for simple requests.  My life growing up was nothing like this “Leave it to Beaver” situation comedy.   Sure this sitcom was romanticized.  It’s sort of like the life depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting.  Yes, there is something nostalgic about a simpler life when life was slower; when the focus was on raising your children well, and good manners were expected.  Just the thought brings back warm and fuzzy feelings about a more considerate time.

The definition of what is deemed “socially unacceptable” may change somewhat as we progress; however, we can still identify a child with good manners from a child without good manners.  There is something pleasing, heartwarming, and maybe unfortunately surprising about interacting with a child with good manners.  They stand out.  Their “please and thank you” roll off their tongues with ease.  They are considerate and anticipate another’s need with “let me help you,” they hold the door with a smile.  It reminds me of a time when it was OK for boys and men to give complements, hold the door for others, asking to help with a load, or to simply be aware when someone was not feeling well.   Let’s try to make this world more considerate.

For goodness sake! Our Manners are Showing!