It’s been a bit of a month for etiquette lessons.
Most recently we had the story of a group of noisy 10-year-olds in a Washington State movie theater... and the adult man who punched one of them out. But that's hardly all. Look back through May and there has been a full wave of public, not-so-nice comments about everyone from Bollywood starlet Aishwarya Rai (too fat post pregnancy?) to “tanning mom,” Patricia Krentcil (too tanned?) to Jamie Lynne Grumet, who posed breastfeeding her 3-year-old son on the cover of Time Magazine (too... too?).
Then there was that 6-year-old boy suspended from school for singing LMFAO lyrics – a sign, one might argue, of a culture so rude that an unsuspecting elementary school student is penalized for mimicking it.
And of course there's the good old presidential campaign. Nothing but manners there.
So, with this barrage of public rudeness, the sort that includes a healthy dose of being uncharitable to others, what’s an etiquette-minded parent to do?
No, it’s not time to double down on the which-fork-goes-where thing, says Elena Neitlich, owner of the company Etiquette Moms, which runs etiquette training courses and certification classes across the country with a specialty in children’s and teen manners.
“People get confused about what etiquette really is,” she says. “I believe etiquette is about how we respect others, how we respect ourselves and how we value others. Our integrity. And I always throw in compassion.”
That’s a little trickier than convincing your 10-year-old to put his napkin in his lap.
But Ms. Neitlich says it’s quite doable. The catch, parents, is that it starts with us.
“I think parents are very concerned these days about appearance. They think their kids are a little sloppier than they used to be, they think their kids are more sexualized than they used to be. [The parents] worry about a lack of honorifics – that the 68-year-old woman next door is 'Jean’ rather than ‘Ms.’ or ‘Mrs.’... I think parents are concerned about what kids are being exposed to on TV. And there’s a lot of concern around sports figures. There’s been a rash of really bad sportsmanship – it’s almost normalized.”
But in addressing all of these worries, and others, the solution comes down to modeling good manners, she says.
Giving others the benefit of the doubt.
“People are not out to get one another,” she says. “Quite the opposite; we’re all pretty good inside.”
That woman who left her shopping cart in the middle of the grocery aisle? Probably not specifically trying to block you. That driver who didn’t have his turn-signal on? Probably not trying to be a jerk. That 6-year-old boy singing “I’m sexy and I know it?” Probably not intending harassment.
Wait a moment before responding.
So the next time a car full of teenagers cuts you off as you’re driving your child home from school? Don’t gesture. Don’t even swear in the car. Take a deep breath and wonder what you’re about to model to your kids.
“You can even say, ‘You know, there was a time when I might have responded in a different way to this.’ ” Neitlich says.
Model healthy ways of giving and receiving feedback.
That includes showing respect. Ie, the opposite of what many kids see if they look through Facebook or the comments on blogs and news stories online.
And, our favorite over here at Modern Parenthood, model the polite usage of technology.
If you text throughout your daughter’s soccer match or your son’s school play, it’s sort of hard to fault them for texting while you’re trying to engage them in conversation. If you let the phone interrupt you at dinner, or when you’re taking a walk with the family, then you’re teaching the lesson that others don’t deserve your full attention and respect.
And of course, you can always add table manners, too.