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Mind Your Manners!

Part I: Why Manners are Important

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A family picnic meal in the shade of tall trees. Parents and children helping themselves to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Mint Images - Tim Robbins/Mint Images RF/Getty Images

One of the best parts of my life is serving as the scoutmaster of our local Boy Scout troop. Often, on a cold winter morning in the woods, I question my sanity of accepting that opportunity as I struggle out of my warm sleeping bag to help with breakfast! But I really enjoy the boys and the values that Scouting teaches them. But I have noticed a decided lack of respect and manners by many of these twelve to fourteen year old Boy Scouts when it comes to adults, parents and leaders. Some of the most basic rules that I learned as a boy-like saying "please" and "thank you" or like not calling adults by their first name-are no longer part of their consciousness.

This really came home to me a few weeks ago as I was bringing some of the boys and their gear home from one of those cold winter camps. At each house, I got out of the van, helped the boys unload their gear and said goodbye. Not once that day did I hear a "thank you" for driving them home, or even for coming with them on the outing. It was just a "bye" or no acknowledgment at all.

Why Children Need Manners

I suspect that all of us have had the experience of being mortified at our children's questionable manners at one time or another. They often seem to breach etiquette standards, and usually at the worst possible moment (like in front of the boss, grandma and grandpa or the minister). But embarrassment of the parents is only one reason why children need to exhibit manners. Other important reasons include:

It demonstrates respect. Mutual respect forms the foundation of many important relationships in life, and children who don't use socially acceptable manners convey a lack of respect.

It makes children likeable. Granted, not all children are motivated by social acceptance; in fact, some relish in destroying it. But for the most part, children want to be accepted and liked; displaying good manners is almost always a positive impression and invites people to be polite and respectful in return.

Why Children Don't Have Good Manners

There are a variety of reasons why children act in an ill-mannered way. Some reasons have to do with how they were raised; some are the result of changing societal norms.

Today's Parents Encourage Openness. For the most part, the days of "don't speak until spoken to" and "be seen and not heard" for children are long gone. Those of us raised in such restrictive environments have swung the pendulum to greater openness and expression in our children. The rule has become that a child may express their feelings whenever they feel a need. However, we need to find ways to help children respect the needs of others while still expressing their own needs.

Popular Culture Rewards Disrespect. It doesn't take very keen observation to know that it has become popular to be ill-mannered. Looking at some of the popular characters for children in recent years (think Beavis and Butthead or the Simpsons), one can see that being rude and disrespectful has become cool.

Real Life Role Models. If my children are any indicator, the public behavior of athletes, entertainers and even adult family members can have a huge impact. For my youngest son, a huge Boston Red Sox fan, if Nomar Garciaparra does it, it must be OK. We have all seen the influence of pop stars like Britney Spears on the way young girls want to dress. It is a major challenge to overcome the negative influence of role models who often have boorish behavior as their stock in trade.

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