Raising Boys with Manners

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Living with eight men can have the flavor of living in a fraternity house – literally. There’s often an overabundance of socks left in the living room, garbage flowing from the can to the floor and dishes overwhelming the countertops in the kitchen. Even more shocking have been the occasional outbursts of Cro-Magnon manners among our young people.

I’ve also noticed an increased level of boorishness in the population as a whole. It’s now considered OK to confront publically and embarrass people (let’s hear it for Shock Jock Howard Stern). Consider when U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson abrasively yelled out “You Lie” during a speech by President Obama about health care.

And, where were Taylor Swift’s bodyguards when Kanye West shoved his way onto the stage during the MTV Video Music Awards presentation? This is all to say that manners have been given short shrift, except for the ones I’m attempting to instill in the cavemen who put their feet under our table and sleep under our roof.

Since I’m upholding the sensibilities of the female of the household, I’m often reminding our sons that belching is not a form of communication and that “excuse me” is the only acceptable response to a fart. Since girls are important to our boys, I tell them that they’ll want to know how to actually behave in a social situation to successfully relate to the opposite sex.

Manners may seem like a terrifically old-fashioned, out-of-date skill to be imparting, but Inc. Magazine recently ran an article titled, “Etiquette: 5 Rules that Matter Now” about the manners and people skills needed in business today.

Jobs and dates: Now there are two great reasons to make manners a part of your everyday life. It also makes living with each other a tad nicer… if we know how to say we’re sorry or to say “Thank you for that terrific meal you worked so hard to make on the grill, Dad.”

So what are the 10 mannerly behaviors we’re trying to instill in our diamonds in the rough, before they’re set loose in the world? Drum Roll please:

  1. When someone does something nice for you – even if it’s just passing the orange juice over to you at the breakfast table, say, “THANK YOU.”
  2. When asking for said orange juice, say, “Please pass me the orange juice” which is highly preferred instead of the mobster version, “Pass me the orange juice or I’m gonna breakka de legs.”
  3. Before barging into a room where the door is closed, knock politely and ask for permission to enter. Give the person on the other side of the door a moment to compose an answer before barging ahead.
  4. Don’t call people names, use foul language or tease someone. Protect each other’s feelings as they’re fragile.
  5. If a grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt or great uncle give you a gift, be sure to thank them with a HANDWRITTEN note. We buy Thank You notes in bulk at our house because there is always a birthday or celebration that calls for thanks.
  6. If it looks like someone is struggling with bringing the groceries into the house or mowing a lawn or any other adult-ish responsibility, ask how you can help. And, pitch in right away, without whining.
  7. Focus on new people when you meet them. Memorize their names. Names are important. Use their names in conversation.
  8. Look someone in the eye when you’re introduced.  Make a connection with the other person.
  9. Shake that person’s hand and ask about him or her. In an extended conversation, use “The Two Thirds Rule” - get the other person speaking two thirds of the time by asking open ended questions about their interests.
  10. Be the nicest person in the room - other oriented, caring, empathetic and interested in others, rather than yourself.

It’s this last one which takes the longest time to develop in teenagers, who are born so very self-centered.  Last Mother’s Day we were floored when, without any parental prompting, one of our sons delivered a bouquet of flowers to Grandma Miller, who lives next door to our family. She’s done a lot for our family over the years and probably deserves to be told thank you a million times. But this one time, when a son spontaneously said “Thank You” with flowers, it meant at least as much as a half a million thank you notes.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve got a long way to go. Our children can still have quite a few Cro-Magnon manners, but we’re seeing glimmers of hope that they may one day be fully functioning members of the human race.

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