There were some old sayings about manners and etiquette, such as, "Children should be seen and not heard," and, "A gentleman should always remove his hat when he enters a room." Does either of these old rules still apply? In some cases, yes, but they shouldn't be held too tightly, or the modern manners police will hold you in contempt of flexibility.
When you think of the things your grandparents told you, consider the times. But remember that being respectful and nice never goes out of style.
While I think that we can learn as much from children as we teach them, they still need to know that there are some manners and etiquette guidelines that they must follow to get along in the world. Here are some thoughts on a few of the old-school rules:
- "Children should be seen and not heard." Gone are the days that the little ones have to keep their lips zipped when in the presence of adults. However, they still need to learn what is or isn't appropriate to say. Parents need to focus on teaching their little ones good manners to keep them from committing social faux pas.
- Always say "please" and "thank you." This is proper etiquette for anyone, regardless of age. Please continue saying polite words and phrases, whether someone does something nice for you or drops some delicious treats into your Halloween bag. Thank you.
- "Don't talk with your mouth full." Ew. Please obey this one, or a more mannerly person might get up and find someone else to have dinner with.
- "Always obey the adult in the room." If all adults were kind, loving people with the child's best interest at heart, this might be okay. But most of us know of situations where adults abused or took advantage of children's obedience, so the child needs to understand what is or isn't appropriate to do when an adult makes demands.
So many adults seem to be afraid of teens, and that's something that should never be. Sure, teenagers may appear to be children in adult-sized bodies, but they still have the same needs as all other humans: desire to be loved, accepted, and appreciated. Some of the old-school sayings about teenagers' manners are the result of their frustration.
Here are some conclusions about the old etiquette rules for teens:
- "The boy should meet the girl's parents before they go on their first date." This is a good rule for the old fashioned date. However, most kids "hang out" and travel in groups, at least in the beginning. What parents should be doing now is teaching their teenagers what is or isn't appropriate when they start pairing off. It's also a good idea for parents to know their children's friends, even when they grow into teenagers.
- "Spit out that gum. It's rude to chew it in public." Don't pop your gum, don't smack it, and dispose of it in a responsible way (never under a chair or table).
- "Girls should never call boys." That old rule is ridiculous. So many teenage boys are so shy they'll never get to know a girl unless she calls him. However, if he shows even a hint that he's not interested, she needs to back off, or she'll come across as a stalker.
- "If you don't have something good to say, don't say anything at all." If what you're thinking doesn't have a purpose (like to protect someone) and it stands to hurt someone else, keep it to yourself. Gossip is never attractive on anyone.
Old-school rules of etiquette that apply to children and teens should also apply to adults. We should all play nicely with each other, respect our neighbors and the person in the next cubicle over, and avoid inciting anger. Here are more of the old-school rules that I think need to be evaluated:
- "A gentleman should always remove his hat indoors." This is a personal preference rule these days, but the overriding policy is that if the hat interferes with someone's view, take it off.
- "Never brag about yourself." In a social setting, this is a good rule. While it's fine to announce a promotion or mention an award, it's never a good idea to gloat or make someone else feel inferior. In a corporate or other professional setting, you often have to "brag" to let others know of your accomplishments. Just do it in a respectful way, and never take credit for someone else's work.
- "Keep your elbows off the table." There's a reason for this rule: Breaking it increases the chance of an accident. If you don't want to tip the table or knock a glass to the floor, don't put your elbows on the table.
- "A gentleman should always hold the door for a lady." Although this isn't necessary in most cases, it's a nice gesture. Sure, most women can open their own doors, but there are some rules that are just very sweet.
- "Leave a place as you found it." In other words, don't trash someone else's home or public restroom. This is an excellent rule that still applies. Clean up after yourself.
- "Respect the elderly." It's easy to ignore people who move a little more slowly or can't hear as well as the younger crowd, but don't forget that they have life experience that should be respected.
- "Before lighting up, offer everyone else a cigarette." Ugh. Please don't smoke indoors. Most public places don't even allow it.
- "Help others." It's always a good idea to show kindness to others while you're out and about. For example, if you see a disabled person in a grocery store struggling to get something off the top shelf, offer to get it for him.
There are hundreds, or maybe even thousands, more old-school etiquette rules that have been passed down through the ages. If you aren't sure if they still apply, go ahead and follow them until you know. What's the worst thing someone can say? That you're too polite? There are much worse things you can be guilty of.