teens How do you convince teens manners matter? :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.

Are you wondering how to teach your young teen proper social etiquette without having him look at you like you just landed from another planet? The days of suit-and-tie dance classes and finishing schools may be gone, but the concept of good manners cannot disappear-they are a fundamental value of our society.

While you might think you've already done this work during his grade school years, even well-instilled behaviors can vanish once a young teen becomes absorbed in himself and his peer group. Your child may start needing more reminders (or in some cases, an entire refresher course).

If you want your teen to think twice about manners, let him know how they are relevant to his life. Good manners appear less "dorky" when they affect what is important to him.

For example:

• Do you want your friends to think you're cool to hang out with? Learn how to compliment instead of criticize, apologize when you're wrong and negotiate instead of fight.

• Do you want your parents to give you more privileges? Learn how to ask without demanding, use honesty instead of manipulation and show respect for their opinions and possessions.

• Do you want a second date? Learn how to use a napkin instead of your sleeve, get spaghetti into your mouth on the first try and keep your bodily functions silent.

• Do you want to get a job? Learn how to shake someone's hand, look him in the eye and mean it when you say, "It's a pleasure to meet you."

• Do you want your date's parents to like you? Learn how to say, "Thank you very much for inviting me for dinner Mrs. Jones; is there anything I can do to help?"

• Do you want to contribute to the love and harmony in the world, or to the prejudice and hate? Learn how to open a door for a woman with four grocery bags, not be cruel to the kid who looks different and give up your seat for an elderly man.

Learn by doing Let your child know that manners aren't just for "old lady tea parties" and that his behavior can have far-reaching effects on his experience of life.

Once he is open to listening, ask him which of the above are the most important to him and find some ways to teach what needs to be learned. The more he is involved in the process, the better it is likely to go.

So, try the following suggestions:

• Rent movies. Notice the manners of the characters. Comedies, particularly ones starring John Candy or Adam Sandler, are good choice for this. Talk about the difference between what's funny on the screen and what actually works in real life. Then, ask your child to look at the manners of people who are successful in business and relationships. How do they treat each other? How do they act in public?

• Role play. When your teen is heading into a situation where manners will be especially important, help him practice the words and actions he will use. Teach him how to introduce himself to a potential employer, teacher or other significant adult. Let him practice a firm handshake and words of introduction until they come naturally.

• Have a family manners contest. Get the rest of your family involved and have a weekly contest by making a list of good and bad manners that will be noticed and recorded. Give movie tickets for the one who racks up the most "polite points" and agree that the person with the most "demerits for rudeness" will clean out the garage. Be sure to keep things in the spirit of fun.

• Take "manners field trips." Go to a restaurant, mall, library, skating rink or some other public place and observe the manners of the people around you. Let one person record what you see. Look for the best manners and the worst. In the car on the way home, talk about what you observed. Kids will be amazed at how often manners come into play and how significantly they affect our daily life.

• Make a reference book. Sit down with your family and make a comprehensive list of the good manners you would all like to see in your household. Next, record the good manners necessary when going to a friend's house, meeting with a teacher, introducing yourself as a potential babysitter to a new neighbor and in other social situations. Edit and compile your final copy into a notebook, put it all on a computer disk or find some other way to preserve the information. Make several copies, or keep the master conveniently located so it is available to everyone in the family.

• Use the golden rule as a guide. Help your child understand that good manners are simply an extension of the timeless goal of treating others the way you would like to be treated yourself. They are not some parental creation for torturing kids, but part of a societal value of treating other human beings with kindness and respect.



Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.

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