Why Etiquette (Proper Manners) is relevant in the 21st Century
Etiquette does not now have the connotation that it once held with cotillions, debutante balls, or “coming out parties. While once an indication of each person’s proper “station” in society, in today’s world, etiquette can make the lives of our children and teenagers a great deal more pleasant for themselves and others. There are a number of areas, only briefly touched upon here, in which etiquette—which might be partially described as an internalized sense of behavioral boundaries and concern for the well-being of others—can play an important role.
Social media and technology
It is pretty clear that constant and evolving media technology, in which vulnerable children and easily-influenced teenagers are exposed to endless amounts of mature content, can affect the behavior of our youth. Social networking sites have placed the focus on self, with an emphasis on “Look at me,” “Listen to what I have to say,” and, sometimes, “Allow me to expose myself to the world, warts and all” and with no filters. This environment does not necessarily encourage self-restraint and consideration of the needs and feelings of others. This self-directed dialogue can quickly become boring, even to oneself. And, as some notable examples teach, sometimes that boredom can lead to a regrettable pushing of the edge.
While instant messaging and cell phone texting encourage communication, not all children or teenagers are able place appropriate limits on this activity. In fact, it is pretty common for kids to ignore friends who are physically present, and events that are directly unfolding in order to text someone who is elsewhere. Teachers have expressed frustration concerning the amount of texting students send from cell phones hidden beneath their desks. Young drivers are getting into car accidents due to excessive texting. And parents are discovering their children are sleep-deprived due to late night texting.
Personal presentation in a competitive world
Dress styles have become increasingly laid back in the last several years. While in some situations —visits to the mall, trips to the supermarket, athletic events or cookouts—it’s appropriate to be dressed casually, there are other instances where a certain level of decorum is expected. An important part of their path towards success is for our teens and young adults to make proper choices in dress including the infinite variety of personal accessories, including visible tattoos and piercings—and understand that self-expression should not carry the day in every situation.
In these times, the competition has becoming increasingly tough for spots in colleges, good jobs (or any job), and even suitable placement in lower grades and high school. Since so many children and teens come with similar levels of academic or extracurricular preparation, in a number of situations it is those whose social skills are well developed that will stand out favorably and have the advantage. Proper social skills will provide young people with the confidence to handle most new and unfamiliar situations with grace and ease because they will know the fundamentals of all situations. They will not be worried about offending others. Instead, they will be able to partake in a variety of social scenes with ease rather than be overly concern about which fork to use, how to treat the host, or talk with another dinner guest, or use their napkin.
What we can do?
It is paramount that, as parents, guardians, teachers, and administrators, we encourage and praise appropriate behavior and manners and, by the same token, not allow our youth to behave rudely or inappropriately. We have to remain engaged, keeping in mind that even though many children and teens may appear mature, this does not necessarily mean that they are.
With all the craziness and incivility swirling around us, we can ill afford to be “asleep at the wheel.” It would be a major mistake to assume that our children—and even those who are uncommonly kind or well-intentioned— will automatically take on good habits or develop enduring social skills. Instead, the rules of etiquette need to be taught by adults by modeling good examples.
Children often imitate the behavior and speech of the adults in their lives. Also, despite our best efforts, we cannot be with our children and teens all of the time. As noted, they are increasingly exposed to depictions of adult situations and glamorization of less-than-savory behavior. They must sometimes process this without much guidance or perspective. And it is not only the least mature or most easily influenced among them who may be prone to copy what they see or be influenced to test boundaries. This is all the more reason why a finely honed internal compass is important. Just as exercise and good nutrition hones and reinforces a child’s healthy body, etiquette is the behavior that complements and reinforces a child’s ethical foundation.
Manners Talk ™ is a 21st Century etiquette program that teaches proper manners and social skills for everyday situations, as well as often overlooked common courtesies. The Manners Talk™ etiquette program, which is taught in an upbeat, kind, and fun-filled environment, will have children and teens feeling more confident with increased self-esteem.
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