• Thu, Dec 27 2012

Sorry, But Etiquette Classes For Children Are A Colossal Waste Of Money

child mannersI think that teaching children manners is extremely important. I think that kids as young as four or five years old should be capable of sitting through a full meal at a nice restaurant without making a mess or disturbing any other guests. I agree that, in general, etiquette can sometimes feel like a bit of a dying art. So I should be completely on board with etiquette classes for young children, right? Wrong.

The New York Times has a nice, long profile of all the ways that the outside world can teach your kids manners. From $300 etiquette classes to restaurants with family night where the owner will walk around and correct children who aren’t listening to their parents, there seems to be a myriad of people who are willing to instruct our children for us. They even make sure to give parents a good excuse for using outside help, noting that with technology and stressful work-life balance, parents just don’t have the energy or patience to teach proper behavior themselves.

There’s just one big problem with this whole set-up. Teaching children how to behave is not the hard part. It’s not that kids don’t understand which utensil to use or when to say, “Please,” and “Thank you.” The problem is that children don’t feel the need to behave. They don’t see a consequence to bad manners. And those consequences are things that only parents can put in place. If you don’t teach your kids to care about other people and the way their actions affect those around them, then why would children want to bother with etiquette when whining or tantrums are easier and more effective?

Even more disturbing, these etiquette lessons sound like they’re playing in to the cause of the problem with children’s behavior, instead helping them understand why manners are truly important. Robin Wells, founder of a business that provides such etiquette classes says, “These days, you have to teach kids about return on investment.” She instructs children to do something kind for their parents, not out of the goodness of their heart, but to see the positive reaction that they get. “It’s almost manipulation at its finest,” she admits.

Another etiquette entrepreneur treats children like mini public relations executives. Faye de Muyshondt explains, “Say the words ‘manners’ or ‘etiquette’ to kids these days, and they run the other direction.” She prefers teaching the children that they are “building the brand called ‘you.’ ”

All of these ridiculous approaches completely miss the point of manners and they fail to teach children the important lessons behind proper behavior. It is not about getting something for yourself. It’s about being polite and respectful to those around you. Knowing a set of rules doesn’t make children any more likely to employ them unless it’s necessary. Parents are the only ones who can make children understand why and how these skills are important.

Outsourcing manners might sound like just another thing we pay people to teach our kids, but it’s a colossal waste of money. The rules aren’t the difficult part. And playing into our kids most selfish natures isn’t going to solve the problem either, it’s only going to make it worse.

You really want to teach your children how to behave? Put some time, effort, and patience into it. Enforce discipline at home so that they’ll know what’s expected out of them in public. And for Heaven’s sake, set a good example. It won’t cost you a dime and it will do a lot more good than a woman instructing an elementary age child about their “brand.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

    Good lord. I don’t want to live in a world where we have to convince 10 year olds that they’re “building a brand called you” in order for them to behave most of the time.

  • Jessie

    I don’t think you’re correct. My son had etiquette classes at age 6, which we reinforced at home. Now, at age 11, he has wonderful manners. Etiquette classes won’t work without parents also doing their job, but they can be a valuable reinforcement.

  • Tea

    I actually enjoyed etiquette classes as a child, it made me feel fancy and grown-up. My husband took them too, and enjoyed them, despite being a rambunctious 7 year old boy.

    And sometimes kids DO need someone besides mom and dad correcting them, because, well, mom and dad don’t always correct them (and as my husband can vouch, some kids just react better when someone calls them out on it.) You’re completely right about some kids just not seeing the consequences to bad manners, but that can be where a fresh input can help.

    I would hardly call this a new thing or outsourcing manners, they’ve been going on for over 50 years and used to be fairly common and encouraged. Maybe you’re seeing this from an urban eye, but they have been somewhat common in the midwest, and usually quite fun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shelly-Lloyd/826469442 Shelly Lloyd

    I can see how for many people etiquette classes are needed, not just as children. The company my husband works for took some of the techs and their wives out for a nice Christmas diner at a very upscale restaurant. It had a formal table setting for with 3 forks to the left of the plate and to the right of the plate 2 knives (meat/salad), soup spoon, shellfish fork, and desert fork and spoon to the top of the plate. Several of guest had no idea which knife to use for which course. These were not rude people, they Just never dined at an establishment that laid out a formal setting. So how are they going to teach their children proper etiquette for such a place? If you have never been exposed to it, it is hard to teach. It doesn’t mean you are rude and over bearing and have terrible manners.

    • LindsayCross

      I can see what you’re talking about, but these classes were for a completely different purpose. They were about teaching children to look in a waiter in the eyes when speaking to them and to keep your cell phone off the table. This was about behavior, not real classic etiquette for extremely formal occasions.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shelly-Lloyd/826469442 Shelly Lloyd

      $300 just for basic manners? I just sort of glossed over the article, but I assumed the class would include manners and formal etiquette. Maybe I should set up classes to teach how to set a formal table. Heck I’ll do it for only $200 a head. It’s not that hard. I’ll even though in how to do a high tea.

  • bumbler

    Sometimes parents need help, and there’s no shame in that. You can nag about parents being too busy and selfish to do it themselves, but let’s be honest, that’s not the majority of people. My sister can’t potty train to save her life. It’s just not something she has a knack for. Maybe you could write an article berating her for having me come over and get the job done.
    Even all that aside, etiquette classes are usually fun for parent and child. Plenty of other commenters here have shared their fond memories of the experience. I’m sure there are a couple whackadoodle businesses out there that advertise the whole “brand of ‘you’” thing, but that sounds rare and wonky.

  • Sandy

    lol etiquette classes. I never needed an etiquette class to behave. My parents took us dining since I was in a stroller, and everywhere we went we got praise and praise for being so well behaved and calm. You dont need etiquette classes to achieve that

  • Eileen

    Is it genuine etiquette? Is someone finally going to teach the children that YOU DON’T CLAP BETWEEN MOVEMENTS OF THE SYMPHONY DEAR GOD? Oh, wait, I’ll just tell them myself.

    Actually, genuine etiquette classes might not be bad for the children of working-class parents who would like their children to be able to move in white collar circles but aren’t sure about some of the expectations. But not ’til the kid is ten or twelve. And being courteous to others is something any parent should be able to teach.

  • Beth Brainard

    Although etiquette classes may provide good reinforcement for things taught at home, they do not take the place of the consistent cultivation of civility that a child needs to gro into a kind, considerate adult. That responsibility falls directly to the parents, and they should put as much thought and effort into that as they do into the work-related projects that keep them so “busy.” Parents who are unsure of how/what to teach about manners can draw upon the many resources available online or in their local bookstores. Beth Brainard, Author Soup Should Be Seen, Not Heard!

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