“Manners easily and rapidly mature into morals.” – Horace Mann

Practicing and teaching good manners and etiquette to the next generation matters more than ever and fosters character development.

Learn about the importance of manners and begin following basic principles, practices, and guidelines to tie manners in with morals, values, and good character. This will help you mentor and guide our youth in understanding the importance of good manners and rules of proper etiquette, but also model specific behaviors.

Learning Manners and Etiquette that Last a Lifetime

Manners matter. According to the Encyclopedia, “manners and etiquette go hand in hand, but are not the same. Etiquette is a set of rules dealing with exterior form. Manners are an expression of inner character.

According to Emily Post, perhaps the most influential American writer on etiquette in the twentieth century, ‘manners are made up of trivialities of deportment which can be easily learned if one does not happen to know them; manner is personality—the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.’

Manners are common sense, a combination of generosity of spirit and specific know-how. Rules of etiquette are the guiding codes that enable us to practice manners.”

Good manners and lessons in conduct really do make a difference for our children and teens as they grow and develop in their formative years. If you think about manners within the broader context of character development (virtues, morals, and values), you will find that you can use this framework to shape the lives of our youth.

There are a number of programs that help young people develop good manners and character. These programs may include manners and etiquette training as part of a school program or through specific after-school clubs and activities.

National programs include: Associated Student Government (ASB), Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps ( JROTC), Boy Scouts of America aka “Scouting” (BSA), Girl Scouts of the USA, Boys and Girls Club, Rotary Club, Interact Club, Harvard Model Congress, Model United Nations, and community service projects. If you are researching private schools or private boarding schools, look at who they are and the types of students they attract, along with their mission and core values.

Note: For the purpose of this article, we will primarily focus on manners, rather than the rules of etiquette.

Reasons Why Manners are Disappearing

Not too long ago, good manners and etiquette were co-equal with other topics in guiding young people to be successful adults. However, in recent decades, having good manners has often been ignored, resulting in a growing number of adults and children not learning the basic principles and practices of good manners and proper etiquette.

The changing priorities in society shape the way we interact and behave. Some may lay the blame on generations like the Millennials (born between 1981 and 1995) and iGen (born in the 1995-2012), but we have all contributed to the lack of good manners and etiquette in our society.

  1. Lack of Character Development – In public schools, and even in many private schools, there is a lack of emphasis on comprehensive and interdisciplinary character development education. However, some schools do offer leadership and character development as an integral part of their academics and campus life. In fact, many boarding schools, in particular, military schools in the U.S. teach lessons in manners, etiquette, communication, leadership, character development and life skills.
  2. Texts and Emails – Changes in communication methods have affected our way of life and our manners. Use of indirect modes of communication like texts and emails don’t require in-person interactions and many of us have become overly reliant on these forms of communication. This can lead to misunderstandings, and in some cases, even offensive or rude exchanges. If values guide our communications with others, then we can see manners in a new light. This might mean knowing when to pick up the phone or have a conversation instead of sending an email or text.
  3. Social Media – As we all have experienced, manners can easily fall by the wayside on social media. When people don’t meet in-person to talk about things going on in their lives and rely too heavily on social media, there is less personal interaction. Social media allows people to feel more anonymous, sometimes resulting in inappropriate comments and a lack of good manners. Social media is a great way to share information and expand your circle of friends, but it should not replace personal connections that occur during gatherings, parties, sports, and other activities.
  4. Television and Video – Unfortunately, television and video have both played a part in the decline of manners and proper etiquette. Lack of civility, poor manners, and lack of etiquette on the part of famous people sends a powerful message to all of us. These are the role models for our youth and they are watching and often imitating bad behavior. If we want a more polite and less divisive society, we all need to make efforts to create productive civil discourse. Part of good manners is to listen attentively and be considerate of different points-of-view.
  5. Working Parents – When both parents are working outside the home, there may be a lapse in the daily routines where parents teach kids manners and etiquette. Some of the connections have been lost through a lapse in family dinners, visits from relatives, and family meetings. These rituals may seem old-fashioned to some, but there needs to be a way for families to communicate with one another and settings for youth to actually learn and practice good manners and etiquette.

12 Ways to Demonstrate Good Manners 

Here are 12 ways you can demonstrate good manners in your daily life and model good manners and etiquette.

  1. Choose your words and topics wisely. Avoid speaking about things you don’t know much about or that could offend someone. Show openness to various perspectives and monitor your choice of words.
  2. Practice Active Listening. It is tempting to try to multitask, but active listening means being off devices, looking the person in the eye and not interrupting. Ask good questions and be thoughtful. These are all signs of core values that underlie good manners.
  3. Watch Your Volume. Speak in a normal tone of voice, as speaking very loud can be viewed as overbearing, bossy or impolite. Shouting at others, in particular, shows a lack of self-control, respect and consideration.
  4. Avoid Negative Remarks. Think before you make a comment that could be interpreted as derogatory or insulting to someone. This is true for in-person remarks as well as online comments. In addition, this pertains to online imagery choices as well.
  5. Think Before You Act. Think things through before you act. Be intentional in what you say and do. Make an effort to be a team-player and be cooperative.
  6. Show Respect Towards Others. Show respect by controlling yourself, not others. Accept that we all have different personalities and ways of doing things. Show respect for everyone, including yourself, your peers, and elders.
  7. Show Appreciation and Gratitude. Using the terms “thank you” and “you’re welcome” shows others you have good manners. Everyone appreciates appreciation and a demonstration of gratitude. Acknowledgment is also key.
  8. Be responsive. Make sure you respond to all forms of communication in a timely fashion. No one likes feeling dismissed and this can be viewed as inconsiderate and impolite.
  9. Show Courtesy. Swearing and the use of profane or curse words will cause others to see you as having no self-control or respect for others. Also, show courtesy toward others while waiting in lines, driving, and other places.
  10. Speak Highly of Others. If you don’t have something positive to say about someone, whether it is a friend, family member, peer or colleague, avoid making negative statements. Be authentic and sincere in compliments and praise.
  11. Be Helpful and Courteous. Lend a hand to others when you see someone is in need. This could be as simple as offering help carrying something or holding a door open. This is a sign of good manners.
  12. Be Friendly and Cheerful – It is generally considered good manners to greet people, smile, and be friendly. Of course, we all should be cautious with strangers, but this does not mean we should be discourteous in our common daily interactions in public places.

5 Key Principles for Teaching Good Manners 

Here are some simple principles and practices that you can put in place to teach manners to children and teens:

  1. Expect respect. The root of good manners is respect for another person. As adults, it is important to model and show respect for both children and adults. In turn, it is critical to expect respect from children.
  2. Start young. Even preschool children can get into the habit of saying, “please” and “thank you.” Model this habit early to teach this very important lesson
  3. Model good manners. Let your child hear you say polite words and watch interactions that demonstrate good manners. Remember, they are watching, listening, and mimicking you.
  4. Manners are a two-way street. Treat your child with the same level of politeness you use with other adults. Let them experience the good feelings of respect and appreciation.
  5. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Expect meltdowns and rebellion sometimes from children and teenagers.. There will be times when your kids will forget his or her manners, or even worse, act impolitely. Correct them privately and calmly, but firmly. Turn it into a learning experience.

When we look at good manners within the context of values and good character, it is much easier to understand and follow. It naturally becomes a way of showing our respect and consideration for others. Practicing and teaching good manners to the next generation makes for a more pleasant way of life.

Let’s instill core values and help our young people understand why manners matter. We can all create a better world through values, good character, strong leadership, and civility.

Interested in a Boarding School with Character Development? Check out Army and Navy Academy, a college prep school geared for boys, grades 7-12. Ask about their approach to Character Development.

Integral to all aspects of academics and campus life, Army and Navy Academy address topics including; core values, virtues, civility, appropriate dress, the essentials of polite conversation, paying attention properly, proper ways to introduce people, how to interview for a job, replying to invitations and gifts, using proper table manners, the proper treatment of girls and women, and how to earn respect. For more information, contact the admission office.