Spring formal and prom season is upon us, and many parents have used the opportunity to prepare their young men and women for these events by enrolling them in dance lessons or etiquette classes. These programs are intended to give them tools to navigate the waters of grown-up social situations that they may encounter as they journey on.
But at the end of the day, they’re a waste of time.
Because if that’s what we think will help them navigate adulthood, we are misleading and hurting them – deeply.
The façade of manners
In the area of the US where I live now, manners are everything. As kids are learning to talk, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” become phrases to use even without thought. Sitting on the porch, sipping our sweet tea, it all looks good. And it would be an obvious next step, then, that as our children near adulthood, etiquette and cotillion-ready manners should be presented. After all, any polished lady or gentleman should know which is the salad fork and from which side the waiter should remove your dirty dinner plate, right?
Yet what does knowledge of these societal institutions even matter if we haven’t taught them basic considerations of respect, kindness and consideration of each other? And before my Christian friends get on their high horses, let me tell you that I see this in Christian families and kids just as often as I do in non-Christians!
What we do need to teach…
Much more important than merely manners, what we need to explain and then model for our children is this: each one of us has feelings and is due respect and kindness. Christian or not, the Golden Rule applies to us all. And understanding that being ridiculed, ignored, bullied or laughed at is hurtful for everyone, will go a long way towards laying the foundation for a caring and compassionate member of society.
… and when!
It is never too early to start these lessons! The “terrible twos”, pre-school temper tantrums, elementary school cliques, middle school “mean girls” moments… all these are teachable times; opportunities to provide guidance and practice in kindness.
When we don’t use those moments, we are preventing our kids from learning even more important social skills. This not only will cripple them in their future interactions with others, but will very likely cause hurt and pain to the people they will come into contact with later in life.
Manners, in the end, shouldn’t really need to be taught… ever. Appropriate behavior in certain social situations, maybe. But truly good manners come from a kind and caring person, and show the other person just how much they are valued and worth. They are an expression of one’s understanding that “It’s not all about me”, and they are an expression of love.
When we teach our kids how to truly love others, we don’t need to teach them etiquette. And at the same time, rather than hurt them, we build them up in the process.