Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teaching your kids manners when the adults are behaving badly

As any parent can tell you, it's hard to teach manners to kids.  Getting your kids to say 'Please' and 'Thank you' and 'Nice to meet you' without constant prompting requires Herculean effort on a daily basis for years before it finally becomes second nature to them.  And it's near impossible to reinforce the need for manners when popular kids programs feature characters who talk down to the adults in their lives (if there are any around) and get lots of canned laughter for rude behaviour and impertinent remarks.

But what about when it's the adults that are behaving poorly?  How do you deal with an eight-year-old who asks, "Why do I have to take off my hat at the table when (insert loutish adult here) doesn't have to and he's an adult?"

At a recent Thanksgiving dinner with my spouse's large extended family, two of the adults brought their smartphones to the dinner table.  Both are parents.  One tapped quietly, checking emails and texts and ignoring the conversation around her.  The other played a loud video on her device and passed it around for everyone to enjoy.

The device made its way down the table, being passed from person to person along with the creamed corn and the gravy.  As it approached me, I wondered how I would deal with it.  We have a strict 'No smartphones at the dinner table' rule in my house.  My kids don't have their own phones yet so the rule is both a reminder for their father and me in the present and a preemptive strike for my kids in the future. So, face-to-face with something I had sworn to my kids was 'rude', I ran through my options:

  • Take the phone, glance at the screen, smile weakly to safe face, and pass it on? (safe but wimpy)
  • Get up from the table and pretend to go to the restroom just as it was about to be passed to me? (safe but cowardly)
  • Go on a rant about how nothing is sacred anymore and the ancient Mayans were right when they suggested the world should end in 2012 (confronting rudeness with more rudeness)
  • Get over myself, join the fun, laugh at the video and be a good sport (and lose this teaching moment?)

In the end, I mashed all the options together and said, "I'm going to pass because we don't allow phones at our dinner table and if the kids see me with this, they'll use it against me."

I got a few eye rolls from my dinner companions but that's to be expected.  They have already branded me as weird for my insistence that they don't post photos of my kids on Facebook.  But I was slightly concerned that I had hurt the feelings of the smartphone owner.  After all, while she has a different set of etiquette rules than me, she genuinely thought she was providing entertainment value with her Youtube offering.  I glanced  glance down the table to see her reaction but I need not have worried.  She was busy looking at photos on the other phone that was at the table and hadn't even noticed.  Such is the short attention span associated with anything electronic nowadays.

In case you're wondering, the video featured a dancing vegetable...

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