Now all of this below, parents, is assuming you have been somewhat pro-active here and have the basics down. If not, see my post “Top Ten Manners to Teach Preschoolers, ” and may God go with you, because if you are starting this late in the game, you are going to need all the help you can get.
Almost more than the little kids, this is a “model good behavior” age. If you don’t want your teen swearing, then you need to cut down on the f-bombs yourself (I know, I know, sometimes easier said than done). But kids at this age question adults and will hone in on any chink in the carefully laid wall of your rule book. If you have a teen at home, you certainly don’t need me to tell you this! When there is a slip up, if your teen is open to hearing your side of things, talk it out. Even late elementary school kids get that there are different “rules” of conduct for different situations. And a “I should have handled that better” will give you more street cred than “Do as I say, not as I do.”
As for teaching, the time is long past for the “say please” that seems to be the prompt every five seconds when your kid was three. Encourage the behavior you want to see, and “catch them” when they do something right. For example, when they hold the door at the mall for the elderly lady behind you, give your kid a nod and smile and a “good job.” When they actually say “thank you for dinner” save the drama (What?! Thank you?! I didn’t even know you knew those words!) and play it cool with “Your very welcome.”
I think the most important step during the teen-aged years is to make sure your family has guidelines in place as to what is acceptable behavior and what will NOT be tolerated. Be clear with consequences for less than stellar behavior, and then STICK WITH IT! Now is not the time to be wishy-washy!
While this is titled for teens, really this is for all older kids, such as late elementary and middle schoolers as well as true teens. I’ve posed it as something you can print out and share with your kids, on the fridge, or what-have-you.
- If an adult/parent/teacher/neighbor asks you to do them a favor (such as take out the trash) skip the eye roll and back-talk. Just do it. Ask yourself, has the eye roll actually ever got me out of doing this task in the past? Does it actually just annoy the heck out of the adult here, and make them less open to what I have to say? One day you’ll be an adult, and it will be your turn to ask the menial favors, and that kid’s turn for the eye roll. It will drive you nuts, and make you crabby.
- No texting at the dinner table. Period. Actually, no texting when conversing with someone in person. Period. The message you send (get it, ha ha) is that the person on the other end of the text is more important than the person you are eating with, or talking to, in REAL LIFE! If that is true, then excuse yourself from the real life situation.
- And speaking of texting, don’t say or do anything to anyone online, via text, or chat room, or IM, or Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever is “in” this week, that you would not say or do face-to-face. I know this is eye-roll worthy, because you, as a child of the 2000’s, get this message every day, everywhere. Yet 14 year olds are STILL texting pictures of their boobs RIGHT NOW, as you read this. And don’t forward emails, texts, or anything else without the permission of the original author. That thought contained in that message, whatever it was, was meant for YOU, not the entire school.
- Don’t be a bully. It is SCARY how quickly something that starts out to be seemingly good-natured teasing can become ugly. If what you are about to say is cruel, even if it is also hilariously funny, don’t say it. Teasing someone says more about you (that you are mean, cruel, don’t care about others) than whatever you think your wittily delivered line will say about the person in question. Just stop. LIfe is not a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movie. Greg is just a jerk most, if not all, of the time.
- When you walk through a door (at the mall, at school) look behind you. If someone is a few steps behind, hold the door for them. Easy!
- Cultivate, and use, a good handshake. If you don’t know what a good handshake is, ask someone, like a teacher, to demonstrate. You are old enough that job interviews, college interviews, and in-laws interviews are closer than you think. Don’t screw up your first impression.
- When someone does something for you, thank them! A teacher helps with an assignment, say “thank you.” Your mom gives you a pass on chores? “Thank you.” Your best friend lets you borrow that totally fresh top for the school dance? “Thank you SO much!” It’s a myth that other kids don’t appreciate manners. They are usually the first ones to talk about so-and-so who chews with his mouth open, or that girl who is sooooo rude (never mind the irony of how rude it is to talk about someone behind their back…)
- If a play, show, assembly or whatever you are being forced to attend is boring, suck it up! You’re a big kid now, act it. If you are old enough to want your own phone, room, tablet PC and clothing budget, you are old enough to buck up at unpleasant things. Sit quietly, and pretend, if you must, to be interested. Don’t text, sleep, or talk with the person next to you. If this is a command appearance for cousin Rachel’s ballet recital, or Uncle Jeev’s church solo, find something positive to say about their part in it. To me this is the golden rule of what manners really are-treat people how you want to be treated yourself! If you were (or sometimes ARE) the one on stage, guess what? There are people in your audience that would rather being doing ANYTHING else. But hopefully those people are not snoring through your portion of Swan Lake, or telling you how awful they find high school Shakespeare. ‘Cause that would suck. And be mean.
- Watch the potty mouth. I get that how you talk with friends *may* be different from how you would talk to your mom. And I get that you already get that. But think twice before shouting profanities to your friends in the school hallway, or across the athletic field, or street, You don’t know if the stranger nearby is your pastor’s brother, or the manager of the burger joint where you just applied or ??? Plus, there are about a bazillion other words in the English language besides the f-word. Try some creativity. It can actually be pretty funny.
- Wait for a pause in the conversation before interrupting. This goes for conversations with adults mostly, but perhaps with other kids as well, especially ones outside your main social circle. Now, obviously there are exceptions to this, but I trust you are old enough to figure these out. Adults do want to know if the house is on fire, or Timmy fell in the well, and will welcome news of that nature immediately, IF NOT SOONER. But let’s say you have a phone message, and mom is talking with the neighbor. Wait for a pause, then “excuse me” followed by the crux of the message is great. Or you have to approach a couple of boys that are involved in basketball try-outs. Wait for them to have a pause in their conversation, then “Hey, man, excuse me, but coach wanted you to know practice will be an extra half-hour long tonight.” Smooth, right?
And a bonus manner, just ’cause I am cool like that. Hygiene. Ya know. STANK. B.O. Stinky feet. As a teen, I will not bore you with the biology of why you reek to high heaven, just that you do. Take mercy on your friends, teachers, and family and bathe. Good manners, at their heart, are doing to other people what you hope they will do to you. Unless you have a fetish for under-arm teen spirit (and I guess it could happen) you don’t want to smell your friends that way. Trust me when I say, the feeling is entirely mutual.