Is dinnertime chaos? Do you find yourself feeding your kids, trying to get in some last minute work and chatting with your husband? Maybe your kids don’t all want to eat the same thing, and as much as you swore you wouldn’t, you find yourself cooking three different meals. Of course you want to sit down to a family dinner, but maybe your husband got home late, your kids have activities, or you’re just too tired to get everyone together to sit down at the table. So, you just put a few plates down, and your kids eat the food, but your two year old doesn’t yet know how to use a fork, your four year old never brings her plate to the sink, and your six year old still chews with his mouth open.
I’ll teach them manners later, you think. When I have time.
Well, evidently, not teaching manners or table etiquette is a family trend that restaurants and business owners are capitalizing on. Some etiquette experts say that, “parents welcome their efforts as a way of outsourcing the hard work of teaching youngsters to follow rules” (Richtel, 2012). Upscale restaurants, such as Chenery Park in New York City, are offering “family nights,” where grown-ups can come and eat fancy fare while kids munch on kid-friendly food, all the while being watched by the owner, Joseph Kowal. He walks around the restaurant, warmly reprimanding kids who don’t have their napkins properly placed, or who are too loud or rude. The kids know the expectations and often rise to the occasion. Additionally, etiquette experts are offering classes for parents who are too busy to teach their kids manners. They argue that “parents no longer have the stomach, time or know-how to play bad cop and teach manners. Dinnertime has become a free-for-all in many households, with packed family schedules, the television on in the background and a modern-day belief of many parents that they should simply let children be children” (ibid).
The ubiquitous nature of technology has also made manners an additional annoyance that is not as natural as holding a cell phone. Often, we have conversations with our spouses while we text our friends, and kids who own phones and iPads too early in life learn to have dialogue with devices, not with other people. Consequently, eye contact and gestures become unnatural and awkward. The etiquette instructors quoted in the New York Times argue that teaching eye contact has become a main staple of their manners classes. Sad, isn’t it? Now we have to teach basic conversational skills to our children, because their lives are not filled with conversation, but by pressing buttons and flashing screens. Awesome.
What do you think about this new trend? Are these “experts” right? Is this generation lacking in manners? Do you prioritize manners in your house, or is it something you think you’ll work on later?