Yes, Kids Still Need to be Taught Proper Manners
If you hang around the Internet long enough, you’re certain to happen upon the urban legend that the famous philosopher Socrates issued this complaint about the youth of his day:
“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
There’s no evidence that Socrates ever said this, of course, but the quote reminds us that complaints about children have reverberated down through the centuries, and that each generation seems certain that today’s youth are simply unable to care for the world. I fall into the camp that today’s kids are, in fact, all right and that they will mature into responsible stewards of society.
It’s getting them there that’s the hard part.
The glue that binds all civil discourse is respect, and manners help children get in the habit of respecting one another. You want broad concepts of respect to permeate your school, but making that happen has to be expressed in the hundreds, if not thousands, of daily interactions between children. This ties back to the “Broken Windows” concept, which says that when society begins to fray at the edges, larger and more complex problems follow.
Manners help keep our school relations from fraying. With that in mind, remember to reinforce these key points in your classroom.
Mr., Mrs. and Ms. still matter
In smaller schools and classrooms, the proper habit of using a salutation such as Mr., Mrs. or Ms. sometimes falls by the wayside. This is more a byproduct of the high level of comfort and familiarity than a sign of disrespect.
Yet this minor fraying at the edges can lead to larger issues as younger students begin to think that adults no longer need a respectful salutation before their last name. This is easily corrected and can be addressed with the whole class, and then reinforced on an as-needed basis.
Don’t give up on Sir and Ma’am
As I grow older, I feel as if I’m turning more and more into my father, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He has always been a stickler about finishing a sentence with Sir or Ma’am where appropriate, and that this always applies in a professional or business setting.
This is an excellent way for young people to convey respect to their elders. It also helps to smooth the “social road,” especially when they need an adult’s assistance. Using proper language sends the message that we are decent and respectful people.
Keep saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
“Please” and “thank you” might seem like little things to attend to, but they send the message that we care for the quality of the interaction that we’re having with somebody, and this translates to how we think about each other.
Children need to be reminded that speaking to someone brusquely and with little consideration telegraphs that they don’t mean much to each other. Proper language, however, validates their value.
Make eye contact
This next one is a big one for me as I’m guilty of this transgression repeatedly. It’s good that I’ve identified it and that I’m working on it. The lure of handheld devices such as tablets and smartphones pulls our attention away from the person we’re speaking to, and I’ve come to believe that this constant flickering away of eye contact significantly undermines communication.
Instruct your students to leave their phones facedown (or set them aside altogether) when they’re speaking with someone else. If it’s essential that they look at their phones, they should take the time to apologize and offer a quick explanation for why they have to look away. They should not be keeping their heads down and grunting acknowledgment.
Disrespect like that is a relationship killer.