Should parents teach their children more ‘good manners’ again?

Dad: “I get the impression that kids are being taught less social skills these days. Approaching an adult, shaking hands, making yourself known by saying your name, it seems to be happening less and less. I see a lot of kids locking themselves into their devices. They also easily cancel an appointment with their smartphones via the app instead of calling nicely. You need that courtesy to get ahead in the world. Precisely such ‘good manners’ can liberate disadvantaged children, they equalize social relations. Shouldn’t parents teach their children that? And shouldn’t the schools be aware of it if it’s not done enough at home?”

Name is known to the editor. (This column is anonymous because parenting difficulties are sensitive.) Want to feature a parenting dilemma? Send your question or reactions to educated@nrc.nl

Attention to each other

Bass delivery: “Etiquette came to a high degree half a century ago. Formality began to equal ‘hypocrisy’. It was about everyone being able to be themselves. Then you immediately get a handle on the problem, because a widely supported etiquette also gives the individual in the company something to hold on to. Manners act as social glue. Nowadays you often hear someone shout, ‘I do it this way’, and then clumsily wave to everyone at once.

“Furthermore, there is something beautiful about a greeting. Acknowledging someone for a moment, a brief moment of attention is important in society.

“How do you shape it? Handshakes have been unusual since corona, also because the young have consciously become cautious around the elderly. But we can also show that we notice each other in other ways. Look at it, call the name. There is still many parents teaching their children to be considerate of others, and that is ultimately what manners are for.

“It is also possible to make good agreements about this in class. It is very productive to let children make their own rules because then they are more likely to follow them. How will we interact with each other? Shall we shake hands and say ‘good morning’? Teachers can involve the parents through a parents’ evening, preferably also the people who don’t normally come.

“I doubt whether such manners are sufficient to get higher in life. Communication has changed radically as a result of digitization, young people simply don’t use the phone anymore, you can’t stop that, it has its own dynamics.”

Let us decide

Hessel Newlink: “In Dutch vocational education, this kind of manners have a place in the curriculum to prepare students for the labor market. There is more attention to this in VMB than in high school.

“We must also be aware of the context when we assess behaviour: A young person who shows little social behavior in or outside school can be very ordinary in practice. After all, it requires young people to be able to change their behaviour, and there is inequality in that. The school can help students with that, for example: what clothing is appropriate when, what greeting is appropriate where?

“What I think is more important is that more attention is paid to students’ participation in the shaping of our society in vocational education. That they are not only asked to conform to all kinds of norms, but that they also learn that norms are changeable and that they have a role in this. However, many young people in (V)MBO do not feel that they have an influence on this. You often hear ‘I’m just a vocational high school student.’ The real liberation lies less in etiquette and more in encouraging critical participation among young people.”

Bass delivery is editor-in-chief at Pedagogy in practice. Hessel Newlink is a lecturer in citizenship education and program director Center of Expertise Urban Education at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

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