Teaching manners

Dear Mr. Dad: Our kids, ages 12 and 14, refuse to write “thank you” notes for gifts they receive. They say “thank-you” letters are old-fashioned and nobody does it anymore. Is it still important to teach kids good manners, and, if so, how do we go about it?

A: Remember the good old days when “please” and “thank you” were the magic words? Well, even though your kids may believe that good manners are as extinct as the woolly mammoth, some of that magic sill remains. In this day and age of informal culture and fast and furious communications – email, Instant Messenger, text messaging – taking the time for a hand-written and heartfelt message of appreciation may seem like, well, a thankless task.

Of course, good manners never go out of style. Being polite, courteous and kind is as important today as ever. After all, times may be a-changing, but the basic human need for respect and acknowledgment of efforts and good intentions is timeless. Paradoxically, saying “thank you” is probably the simplest thing we can do in this highly complex world.

Your kids are still at the “learning” stage when they are developing skills and sensitivities that will help them grow into well-rounded adults. It’s up to us, not their peer group, to propel them onto the right path. The best way to teach good manners is by example. Do you say “thank you” for gestures big and small? Do you gracefully acknowledge acts of kindness? In other words, are you creating the kind of environment in your home that promotes friendliness and civility? If the answer is yes, that’s an excellent start because while peers may influence your teens in many ways, the cornerstone of good behavior, social skills and general culture, is laid – and nurtured — at home.

How to do you convey the importance of good manner to your teens? You may want to re-explain to them why it’s important to thank gift givers for their generosity. For example, tell them that a present, no matter how small or inexpensive, is always a sign of affection. The giver almost certainly intended to please the recipient, hoping the gift would be liked and enjoyed. Those noble intentions – not to mention the money and time invested into purchasing of the item — deserve to be promptly acknowledged.

Do you know why your kids balk at writing thank you notes? Is it because they are lazy, they truly believe that good manners are outdated, or could it be simply because they don’t know how to go about it? After all, letter writing is not exactly an innate skill. Also, they may find the prospect of writing long letters daunting – and who wouldn’t? Tell them these notes can be brief; after all, it’s the content that counts, not the number of words. Perhaps something along the lines of: “Dear Aunt Sally, I received your generous check. What a wonderful surprise! I intend to buy some new Nintendo WII games I’ve wanted but couldn’t afford. Thank you so much for thinking of me. Love, Billy.”

You may also want to buy some fun stationery and colorful pens, or, better yet, let the kids choose their own. Having all the necessary supplies ready may just make it easier to sit down and write. If you simplify the task as much as possible, chances are the children won’t see it as so much of a chore.

By learning to express gratitude your kids will hone the people skills that will be crucial later on in their work and social environment, because courtesy is one of the basic strategies of success.

And that’s one valuable lesson they will one day thank you for (not right now, but sometime in the future, probably when they’ve got children of their own).