Do Manners Still Matter?

Faye de Muyschondt, an etiquette expert and founder of socialskilz:-) etiquette school in Manhattan, shares some of the rude behavior she sees in kids due to the digital age and how to instill good manners in kids, plus getting kids to behave at the dinner table.

In honor of National Children’s Good Manners Month (yes, it’s a thing!), we spoke to Faye de Muyschondt, founder of Manhattan’s socialsklz:-) etiquette school, about whether good manners are still necessary in today’s high-tech, fast-paced world.

What do you consider to be some of the rudest things kids do today?

We hear a lot about this being the “me, me, me” generation, and it’s true that kids can be very self-absorbed. But, to be fair, it’s not necessarily the child’s fault—it’s more a generational issue. Kids just don’t get the same amount of social interaction if they’re staring at their phones. When I was growing up, I had 10 times the amount of social interaction that kids do these days. So, one of the biggest problems I see today is with modern technology. It’s frustrating, because kids are growing up without being exposed to the norms of regular manners [and] nobody is teaching these skills. It’s kind of assumed that kids will pick up these skills by themselves, but how do they learn respect if we haven’t actually taught them what it is and how to show it?

Studies show that simple good manners can result in an average 11-percent gain in academic performance over six months. What do you believe is the reason for this relationship?

There’s no question that school is a very social experience—and if a child is not faring well socially, there is a direct correlation with academic performance. When we see poor interaction between peers, or with teachers, it can mean a child gets overlooked, or rejected, or is constantly sent to the principal’s office. This has a direct impact on the child’s confidence and learning.

One of the hot topics for most parents is table manners. How do you advise handling kids when they misbehave at the table?

Parents feel like they’re being nags when they’re trying to instill good table manners, and it makes for an unpleasant dining experience. I tell parents, don’t make focusing on dining skills an “every day” thing. The most important thing is to have an enjoyable family meal. So, instead of battling every time you’re at the table, dedicate yourself to it on, maybe, a Saturday night when you have the patience—and aren’t just back from work. Going out to dinner should be a pleasant experience, not the place to be reprimanding your child.

RELATED: 7 Tips for Teaching Kids Table Manners

What are the most important lessons kids need to learn about social media and the digital world?

Every household is different, but you must set up your technology rules. In most cases, no one has taught their child what to post, how often, and what you should and shouldn’t do online. I send my students home with a digital contract for them to go over with their parents. Knowledge is empowering. If you don’t know what your kid is doing on his device then you are not going to be an empowered parent. I suggest you know what apps your child is using and what his passwords are. You are responsible for your child’s digital life at the end of the day. It’s a privilege to have that device, and it can be rescinded easily if the rules of the household aren’t followed.

What is the best way for a parent to respond when a child does not show good manners?

Working on the skills should not happen in the heat of the moment. Your child is not going to absorb it. It needs to happen at a much more neutral time, so wait until you are in the comfort of your own home.

Before you take your children into a social setting, take a moment for a quick review of what you expect from them: “Here’s what I’m hoping for from you: I’m looking for you to say ‘Hello, Mrs. Smith,’ use proper eye contact, smile, and maintain good body language.” You’ve already taught the lesson, this is just a refresher.

How early is too early, and how late is too late, to learn good manners?

Good manners start at birth. You, the parent, are modeling these skills. You have the greatest impact on your child. These are teachable skills, so if you haven’t been the perfect role model, there is still time. You can start teaching good manners as early as 2 years old—sharing, and saying “please” and “thank you.”

It’s never too late! As you grow older, manners remain an important social and emotional toolkit for life success.

RELATED: Teen Etiquette: Table Manners & First Impressions

What are your top three tips for showing good manners?

It’s pretty easy to stand out and be a well-mannered child these days. It boils down to three main things: eye contact, facial gestures, and body language. Throw in a handshake and you’ve just made a heck of a first impression. Life is a lot easier! In my classes, I show the students the difference: First, I walk in with my head down and don’t say a word, then ask them how they think I feel. “You’re angry!” they all say. Then I walk in with my head up and a big smile, and the kids all say “Now you’re happy! You’re nice!” But I didn’t say a word. I just changed three things: eye contact, a smile showing your teeth, and positive body language.

To what do you attribute today’s increased interest in etiquette schools?

We have become a much more casual society, there’s no question about that. Parents (and kids) don’t want frilly etiquette lessons in our very modern world—they don’t apply. If you stand at a chalkboard with your pearls teaching please and thank yous, no one is going to listen. However, there is definitely interest in social and communication skills. Most parents know that these skills are vital for life success.

What is the true message behind these classes? 

The true message is respect for oneself and others. That’s one of the most valuable lessons every child needs to learn. In order to respect others, one needs to be respectful of himself or herself first and foremost!

RELATED: Tips to Teach Kids Manners