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The family way
6:00am Saturday 28th September 2013 in Lifestyle
With new research saying that a polite, respectful child can make a parent's day, Lisa Salmon talks to an etiquette expert about why good manners are - and always will be - so important.
Respectful children who say 'please' and 'thank you' may seem in short supply these days, but basic good manners still make parents happier than anything else.
Research, by internet provider Plusnet, has found that nearly three quarters (72%) of parents think being shown respect makes the biggest difference to their day, followed by children saying thank you to them (67%), and giving them a smile (64%).
These simple codes of good behaviour even give parents more pride than the success of a good school report, something only 61% said made the biggest difference to their mood.
Yet despite such clear hankering for respect and good manners, a survey by Waitrose last year found 72% of those questioned thought people have become more rude over the last decade - more than 70% even thought good manners should be taught in school as part of the national curriculum.
William Hanson, a senior etiquette tutor at The English Manner, which specialises in teaching manners and etiquette, agrees that manners aren't as good as they once were - and not just among children.
"It's their parents too," he stresses.
"They often have no idea when it comes to basic manners and etiquette, and if the parents have no idea then there's not much hope for the children."
Hanson says manners are about having respect both for other people, and self-respect, being able to put people at ease, respecting the views of others, and not embarrassing them.
He explains that people show they're well-mannered by using basic etiquette, including thanking someone for holding a door open for you, or writing a thank you letter for a birthday present.
"But it's those basic civilities, the signs of a civilised society, that have gone out of the window.
"A thank you text is better than nothing, but it's not the same thing as a nice, hand-written letter that takes two minutes to write."
He points out that even children as young as four should be sending thank you letters, perhaps by writing their name on a message written by a parent.
"It means the child is getting into the habit and is aware of the process," he says.
Eye-contact is another key point of etiquette that should be encouraged, Hanson says, as a lack of it could suggest a person is lying or is insecure. Knowing how to shake hands well - even as a child - is equally important. Strictly speaking, a child should wait for the adult to extend a hand to them, then use the right hand, palm facing inwards but not down, look the person in the eye, and give one or two firm shakes. Kissing people on the cheeks is fine if you know them, but not if you don't, adds Hanson.
Knowing how to sit properly at the dinner table and eat correctly is also good etiquette, says Hanson, explaining: "We've developed these rules over time to make the process of chewing look more pleasant.
"We eat with our mouth closed, our elbows in, holding the cutlery properly and not talking with our mouth full."
He suggests that in a restaurant, children should be encouraged to order their own food so they learn at an early age how to do it. And at home, if a young child eats their dinner earlier than the rest of the family, a parent should sit with him/her and talk to them, make sure they're eating properly - he also says to eat a piece of fruit while the child eats, so the child is aware that they shouldn't talk with their mouth full.
"Children are great mimics and they will copy bad behaviour if they are shown bad behaviour," stresses Hanson.
"It's not just the parents' responsibility - they should start the process, and then the schools should reinforce it."
Hanson says knowing how to dress is also important, pointing out that the young, and particularly girls, are often "slaves to fashion" and wear clothes that don't necessarily look good on them, are ill-fitting or don't suit their body shape, but are fashionable.
"You may think these are trivial things, but we judge people within the first seven seconds of meeting them, and if your child goes for a university or job interview, the interviewer will have decided within the first seven seconds whether he/she is not going to employ them.
"It's about having self-confidence without being cocky. People often lack that confidence and don't know what to do because they haven't been taught or shown how to behave."
He points out that parents and children who want to learn more about correct etiquette and manners can go on a course, or find plenty of information on the internet and in books.
He insists it's a worthwhile investment both of time and money though, saying: "If you're investing in your child's education, it's much better to invest in manners because they'll get them further than GCSEs and A-levels. The children with better manners will progress further in life, whether that's professionally or socially."
On a positive note, Hanson says that while good manners may have been eroded in recent years, their importance is growing again.
"I do think the pendulum is beginning to swing back," he says.
"In more stringent economic times we begin to look at ourselves quite critically, and we begin to value the good old-fashioned money-can't-buy traits, rather than the consumerism we had during the boom years."
He adds: "Parents might say good manners are outdated and irrelevant, but nine times out of 10 they're just insecure and don't know manners themselves.
"It's not rocket science. Good manners are ageless, timeless, priceless and classless. They're selfless, not selfish, and are about treating everybody with respect."
Ask the expert
Q: "I've found my 12-year-old son watching online porn. I know I should talk to him about it, but what should I say?"
A: Kate Massey-Chase of TeenBoundaries, a part of the Family Lives charity aiming to prevent sexual bullying and exploitation and provides workshops for schools, says: "Appropriate behaviour towards sex and relationships is vital when young people are beginning to surf the net, and we must all prepare to have conversations with our kids to help them value and respect one another.
"Empowering parents to help young people manage and interpret the online world is vital.
"A recent TeenBoundaries survey of parents of eight-17-year-olds found nearly one in 10 had experienced an issue with online pornography with their child.
"Most parents thought they were the best person to talk to their children about pornography. Young people are more likely to seek advice from parents who listen and are supportive, rather than those who lecture or fly off the handle.
"Without clear and realistic facts about sex and relationships, young people will seek the information from elsewhere. Maintaining sexual ignorance isn't the answer, as young people may find content that's inaccurate, that distorts their ideas of sexual relationships.
"Despite this, only 34% of parents in the survey had spoken to their child or planned to. In addition, many parents who were prepared to speak to their child were leaving it until the child was older, with the average age being 13 years of age. Only 40% of parents felt that support and advice was available to help them talk to their child about online pornography.
"We advise keeping PCs, laptops and tablets in a room used by all the family. Parents may allow young people to take laptops and mobiles to their rooms while doing homework or chatting with friends, but they should expect parents to be able to interrupt and see what they're doing - and digital technology should never be in bedrooms after bedtime.
"Parents must monitor how much time their children spend online and encourage them to openly talk about what they're looking at."
:: For more information on TeenBoundaries, visit www.teenboundaries.co.uk
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