Don't Outsource Your Etiquette – Kveller
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Don’t Outsource Your Etiquette

The front page of the New York Times Home section promised an article on “Teaching Children Manners: Etiquette courses are springing up for parents short on time or nerve.”

Well, that’s interesting, I thought. If a parent is that short on time, they should probably delay having a child. And if they are that short on nerve, they should re-think having children all together.

It never occurred to me that having “nerve” is implicit in being able to say to your kid, “Because I’m your mother and I SAY SO!”

I anticipated an article about “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me.” About using a tissue to blow your nose, about cleaning up your part of the mess when you visit a friend, about stripping the bed after a sleep-over. I thought the article would include manners such as saying “hello” or “good morning” to the teacher. Picking up and returning someone’s dropped item. Wishing the doorman and supermarket cashier, Happy holidays.” Saying, “Thank you for a nice day” to the nanny, day care worker or teacher as you left them. You know, things like that, things that reflect everyday life in the city. Like my 3-year-old grandson who now loudly says, “Hello, bus driver!” to delighted smiles when we board the city bus.

Instead, the article talked about manners kids need to learn to go to upscale restaurants. The first paragraph describes a 6-year old who knows how to behave in such a restaurant because of his lessons in etiquette. Lessons which can cost $285 for five one-hour sessions. A bargain.

Why parents would even want to take a little kid to such a restaurant is beyond me. Why can’t the 6-year old just go for pizza? Why torture him into behaving like an English prince so you can spend “$24 for grilled salmon” amid “low lights” and “cloth napkins?”

But most alarming to me were the sentences, “Parents welcome (etiquette experts’) efforts as a way of outsourcing the hard work of teaching youngsters to follow rules,” and, “Parents no longer have the stomach, time or know-how to play bad cop and teach manners.”


If you’re “outsourcing” the “hard work” of parenting, you are “outsourcing” parenting. The job description of being a parent involves “hard work,” “rules,” and “manners.” You MUST have the resolve and time to teach manners. That is what child-raising is: doing difficult things, taking stands, setting standards, molding your young child into a well-functioning adult.

In my opinion, if you are not up to the task, don’t apply for the job.

One “etiquette expert” threatened to tape a kid’s mouth shut when he wouldn’t “settle down” in the fancy restaurant. He went to his office, cut a piece of tape, and scared the kid into “behaving.”

Well, one day that kid is going to be smart enough to know that the “expert” would not follow up on the threat (child abuse, anyone?) and what does that teach him?

What do you mean, you “etiquette expert,” when you say “long gone are the days when you can tell (the children) that they have to behave a certain way ‘just because'”? OF COURSE the kid has to behave “just because!” Just because I say so and I am your mother/father! Ever hear of the army? Well bringing up small kids is a lot like boot camp. Don’t argue, don’t debate. The parent is the officer, the kid, the private.

Of course I am talking about small children here. But even later, when your child gets bigger and you want to explain your reasoning to teach her not only “what” but “why,” you are responsible for setting and enforcing the standards you believe contribute to raising a mensch.

Teaching manners cannot be taught in a short course and telling a kid what to do is only part of teaching rules and manners. What you do, how you interact with your environment, teaches your child how to behave, how to have manners. Do you greet the people you meet? Do you disturb people around you by loudly talking on your cell phone in a public area? Do you lash out at others when things don’t quite work out the way you expected? Do you treat the people who work for you the way you want to be treated? Do you make racist comments? What do you say and do when you see a homeless person?

Back to the fancy restaurant: Did the kid thank the waiter who brought the plate to the table? Did he say “please” when he needed more water? Did he say goodbye to the maître d’? Did he thank the parent for the lovely experience?

He was probably too busy folding his cloth napkin.

For more on teaching manners to young kids, check out Dr. Wendy Mogel’s tips on manners, respecting parents, and welcoming guests.

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