On Grandparents’ Day at school, I expect my students to greet their guests at the door, lead them to their seats, offer them refreshments, and serve them. They don’t do this naturally; their inclination is to stay seated, let their guests come to them, and get treats for themselves only. Yet every one of them will rise to my expectations because we’ve discussed proper manners beforehand.
Teenagers are notoriously self-centered and often seem rude, but it’s usually due to lack of training rather than blatant selfishness. Adults who work with teens should expect them to be courteous but should also keep in mind that these behaviors need to be modeled and taught.
These are what I consider to be bare-bones basics for all teens:
- Use please and thank you. At some point during puberty kids think saying “please” sounds childish. Teenagers don’t realize how demanding they sound when they begin a sentence with “I need. . .” Rather than reminding, “Say please” or asking “What’s the magic word?” (both guaranteed to cause eye rolling), I go deaf or say, “I’m sorry?” to requests without manners. That way they have to think of it on their own. In my classroom this often leads to students repeating demands in a louder voice, but I just smile and wait until they catch on.
- Look new people in the eye, shake hands firmly, and say, “Nice to meet you.” We practice this in 8th grade, and the students express gratitude: “I never knew what to say when my mom introduced me to people, but now I do!” I also point out that they make a great first impression as a confident, friendly teenager instead of a sulky or awkward one.
- Offer your seat to adults. On public transportation, in a restaurant waiting area, or at a family gathering, teens should stand up and say, “You can have my seat.” Some adults may prefer standing or sitting on the floor, but at least the offer has been made.
- Hold the door for anyone coming behind you. First they have to be taught to check behind them and see who’s back there. Lost in their adolescent bubbles, they aren’t always aware of people outside their spheres. It doesn’t matter whether they open the door and hold it to let someone pass in front, or just reach behind to hold it until the next person grabs it, as long as they don’t slide through and let it close behind them.
- Disagree with tact. I tell my students that in the Adult World (a phrase that gets their attention), we don’t say, “You like that? Gross!” Instead we say, “Oh, really? I don’t much care for it” and agree to disagree.
If you encounter a young person using any of these manners, don’t overreact by being gushy, “Aren’t you the nicest young man?” which will embarrass him, nor by giving a backhanded compliment, “Well, what do you know–there are some polite teenagers in the world!” Instead, just smile and say, “Thank you.” It’s what we do in the Adult World!