21st Century Manners—or the Lack Thereof

Dear Mr. Dad: We’ve always taught our kids to say “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and the other basics. But where are the rules about texting and using cell phones and all those other things that didn’t even exist when our parents were teaching us how to be polite?

A: Great question. Reminds me of last Thanksgiving, which I hosted. I was sitting at one end of the table and noticed that two guests at the other end were staring into their laps and, you guessed it, texting. I didn’t want to embarrass them, so I did the next best thing: sent each of them a sternly worded text telling them to stop texting. That seemed to resolve the issue. But that whole experience (we’ll skip the other guest who repeatedly checked football scores on his phone and then got up to go watch a game on TV) taught me two things. First, that while “please” and “thank you” are still important, there are dozens of other situations that Emily Post never even dreamed of. And second, today’s technologies haven’t changed the fact that good, old-fashioned manner are just as important as they ever were.

So here are a few 21st century scenarios and some thoughts on how to handle them. If you have an idea of one we should cover here, please let us know. We’ll feature some of the best in future columns.

Texting or talking on the phone at the dinner table. My basic rule is No. It’s rude—in the same way that reading a book at the dinner table or ignoring or excluding people in a social situation would be rude. It shows a basic disrespect for other people around you. The same goes for playing games on your phone or DS or other handheld device. Of course, if there’s a true emergency (an Angry Birds tournament doesn’t count), the rules change. But even then, stand up, say a polite, “would you please excuse me?” and go somewhere private.

Social media. Yes, it’s everywhere, but the Golden Rule still applies: Don’t do anything to anyone else that you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. Thinking about YouTube-ing a video of a friend making a fool of herself after having had a few too many drinks? Considering re-Tweeting a confidential message someone sent you? Toying with the idea of posting some really nasty comments on someone’s Facebook Wall? Take a deep breath and imagine that the roles are reversed and someone else was posting videos, Tweeting, or cyberbullying you.

Email. We all know that it’s rude to write in all caps because IT SEEMS LIKE YOU’RE SCREAMING. But be very careful about how you use Reply or Reply All. Does everyone on the email list really need to see your response to the original sender? I’m guessing not. And be even more careful about using BCC. If you’re using BCC to send potentially embarrassing information to someone who really has no business knowing it, you’re playing with fire. Eventually the other person will find out and you’ll be pegged—rightfully so—as an untrustworthy person who betrays friends and can’t keep a secret. And finally, try not to send email thank-you notes unless it’s for something very informal. It’s not appropriate, for example, for a child to write one “thanks for the cool birthday present” email and CC all of her guests (we’ve received more than one of these). Written thank-yous take more time and effort but they’re much more meaningful—to both the writer and the recipient.

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