I Talk To My Kids About Good Manners, But Will They Get It?

It was a day for families and fun, an outdoors concert. I cheered and jumped to my feet along with the crowd as the band broke into its first song, then everyone resumed their spots on picnic blankets and beach chairs to listen to the country music in the hot summer sun.

 On this rare night out without the kids, my friend Tara and I found ourselves being the “old folks” frowning at the shaking and twisting butts of two women who looked young enough to make me raise an eyebrow at the beers in their hands. Considering they were less than three feet in front of us and blocking our view, we didn’t have any choice but to watch their gyrating rears. I was in my twenties once, at concerts, and laughed over the idea of sitting in chairs, instead, standing on them. At this venue, however, there was an unwritten rule: Dancers to the back. Picnickers to the front. “We need to get Common Courtesy Cards,” my friend Tara said with a frown.


A woman walked over to the two girls, gestured to the people surrounding them. They turned and looked and, unlike the other group, flipped off the crowd and continued dancing.

I felt like an old lady, tutting and shaking my head, but I couldn’t help but wonder, has it always been like this? What happened to manners? Has personal pleasure always trumped courtesy, and I’m just at an age where I notice it? And how can I keep my own daughter from being one of these girls in twenty years?

Another woman asked the dancing girls, “What would your mother say?”

“My mother would tell me to dance!” she replied above the music. I rolled my eyes. I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing everything I can to make sure my kids are aware of the people around them. As with most children, they are typically oblivious.

It’s not always easy trying to teach my kids how to be courteous to those around them. They dodge between shopping carts at the store, start conversations while I’m talking to other adults, and have a bad habit of stopping in the middle of a crowded sidewalk to check out a bug or a brightly colored window display. The older they get, the less these sorts of things are considered cute and precocious. Instead they are just plain rude.

I’m constantly speaking a litany to them: Be aware of the people around you. It’s right up there with “eat your vegetables” and “wash your hands.” I have to hope the repetition will eventually drill the idea into their heads, and one day maybe they’ll notice the woman in a wheelchair they just dodged around or will hold their tongue when I’m in the middle of a conversation. I would be horrified if my kids grew into adults who flipped off courtesy.

After the set was half over, the girls in front lost interest in dancing and sat down again with their dinners and beers.  I’d like to think they finally realized, looking around, they were the only ones standing. Maybe their mothers’ mantras got through to them after all.