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Be persistent in teaching your teen that a little civility goes a long way in this world

Some teenagers just don't believe in manners.

You may be familiar with this scene: You and your son have been seated at a restaurant for about 15 minutes when the waiter brings out one of your meals.

“Who has the chicken parmesan?” the waiter asks.

“Me.” Your son digs into his food as soon as the plate is placed in front of him.

“Jordan, wait until my meal comes before you start eating. The polite thing to do is to wait until everyone is served before you start to eat.”

“Mmpf,” your son says, his mouth full of chicken parmesan.

Later, as you ride home in the car, you ask: “Jordan, when are you going to learn to have manners? You can't go through life acting like some kind of uncivilized savage.”

The answer: “Manners are bull. I'm serious, Dad, manners are bull. It's what snobby rich people do to show how they're superior to everybody else. Manners are phony. Think about it, Dad. Manners are exactly the opposite of acting like how you feel. It's judging people based on phony stuff, not who they are. Manners are phony bull.”

We want to raise well-mannered children, but for many teens, manners are to be disdained. They believe that good manners are not genuine. Many of the same teenagers also feel that manners require a level of effort they simply would rather not expend.

I am a believer in teaching children good manners. Manners are beneficial. They are good for a child to have as part of their daily repertoire. I am talking here about common courtesies, such as saying please, thank you and you're welcome. Looking people in the eye when you talk to them and not mumbling. Eating with proper utensils. Chewing with your mouth closed. Waiting to eat until everybody is served. Saying, “Would you please pass me the peas,” rather than grabbing.

One reason for teaching good manners is that many children do not actually know what they are.

There are some very real, practical reasons why manners make sense: First of all, manners make things more pleasant for others, who will, in turn, be more pleasant to you. Manners help start off interactions – especially with people you're meeting for the first time – on a positive note. Manners provide a set formula, a script of how to act. Manners help you know what to say and do in a new situation. Many people who do not know good manners are often intimidated in new situations or with new people. As a result they do not do as well in unfamiliar territory.

Having good manners gives you a foot in the door of a club of sorts – one that's very useful to be a part of.

“I'm not going to do it. It's too lame.”

So what's a parent to do?

Keep insisting on please and thank you and hold your head up when you talk to people. If they object, respond in a level manner: “You may not agree with me. You may think manners are stupid. But I want you to use good manners anyway. They do make a difference in how you present yourself to the world. They are useful to have.”

Don't argue. Don't chastise. Just persist.

It will be frustrating. At least for a while, the best you may get is begrudging compliance. But then, when they get to be adults, most do understand the point of politeness. They may even thank you for teaching them proper manners.

“I won't thank you. I want to be in the bad manners club.”

“No, you only think you want to be in the bad manners club.”

As I said, persist.

“Jordan, remember, offer to carry in one of these packages.”

“Fine, whatever.”

“Thank you, Jordan.”

“This is so lame and pathetic.”

“No, remember, the correct response is, ‘You're welcome.'”

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager.

source: Toronto Globe and Mail