Manners in the Middle

Originally written as a letter to parents on December 3, 2010

People frequently ask my wife and me if we experienced “culture shock” upon arriving in Texas. While the adjustment has been remarkably easy, we have been deeply (if pleasantly) startled by one thing: the prevalence of good manners.  On our morning walks, joggers paused to say hello. At neighborhood stores, clerks wished us a hearty good morning and asked how they could help. At the car inspection station, the mechanic filled our tires, drew us a map to the registration office, and offered to have us come back to put on our license plates – which he did, in the rain, while telling us how much were going to love living in Fort Worth.  Perhaps the first hint I had of this phenomenon was during my interview last spring. After speaking in front of the middle school students, a number of them came up, looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and thanked me for visiting (several even added the word “sir”!).

Manners matter because they are an outward reflection of essential core values: respect, compassion, and a sense of fair play.  As parents, you know that children are not born saying “please” and “thank you” – thousands of hours of teaching, reminding, modeling, and redirecting go into helping children internalize proper behavior.  And sometimes, when kids hit adolescence, the appearance of sullen behavior and slamming doors may make you wonder what happened to that well-mannered eight-year-old who only lived in your house “just yesterday.”  Though students are becoming increasingly independent in some ways, they continue to need guidance from their parents and teachers on how to interact respectfully.  This is part of the work of teaching and raising middle schoolers: providing explicit instruction on everything from how to write an old-fashioned thank-you note to how to communicate appropriately online.

I often find it helpful to remind students that good manners not only help others – they also benefit us!  Dr. Alex J. Packer, author of How Rude: A Teenager’s Guide to Good Manners said in an interview, “While teens should be polite because it’s the ‘right’ way to live, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that good manners are good for them! Good manners are impressive, attractive, and increasingly hard to find. Teens with good manners come out on top. Well-behaved kids stand out in a crowd, and are more likely to get what they want out of life. . . Knowing how to act in all kinds of situations breeds confidence, which helps to keep you cool, calm, and collected in the face of stressful events and interactions.”  We see this in action every day: the mechanic who put on our license plates earned a loyal customer, and the warmth I felt from the students during my visit helped convince me that Trinity Valley School was the place to be.

You might enjoy the following article on manners and teens:

“Teaching Good Manners to Teens, Tweens” 

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