Be polite. Know your place. Say 'please' and 'thank you'. Are simple good manners becoming old fashioned, asks Marchelle Abrahams.
Growing up, we were always taught to say “please”, “thank you” and “excuse me.” These were the requisites for polite behaviour that my mother instilled in us from an early age. Now that I’m a parent, I try to pass on these valuable life lessons to my own children because I believe that good manners are the building blocks to giving them a headstart in life.
Judith Martin, a US journalist, author and an authority on etiquette. is the pioneer of a society called Miss Manners. Her mission? To persuade people to practice civility as much as they talk about it.
The movement started in 1978 while Martin was writing an etiquette advice column three times a week for 200 newspapers around the globe. Her columns ranged from manners to politeness.
Manners4Minors is the South African equivalent of Miss Manners, exclusively dealing with children.
Founded by Daleen Taylor in 2007, they’ve gone beyond the realm of just teaching good manners, and created an interactive programme that teachers and parents can integrate into everyday learning activities.
“Manners4Minors is all about good manners, but more importantly, social skills and character coaching for children,” says business operational manager Carmen van Wyk.
The programme was developed specifically for foundation phase children, arming them with the tools for good manners and basic etiquette.
Each child attends a weekly half hour lesson taught by a Ms Manners representative at their school.
The overall objective for Ms Manners is to demonstrate to children what reaction they can expect when using effective life skills. Ultimately they are imbued with conscience because now they know better.
Pupils are taught in a fun interactive environment with the use of four puppets: Princess Penny is well mannered and kind, Boastful Betty is bossy, Caring Kurt is a kind and caring friend and Rude Rodney is a bully and badly mannered.
Most parents would shake their heads in disbelief and ask “how can someone be teaching my child manners?”
It’s the “why” and not the “how”.
Van Wyk believes that parents just don’t have the time to teach their children the basics of being polite.
“Parents are not interacting with children any more. They stay at school till late in the afternoon; and parents are tired when they get home from work. So, they decide what they want to deal with - manners are not something on their priority list,” she adds.
It all comes down to social interaction: “Children are not getting social skills because we don’t socialise like we used to.”
Van Wyk claims that something as simple as eye contact is important, which we are not doing because parents and children are constantly watching a screen or tablet.
Manner4Minors is a success story that seems to be hitting a chord with schools and parents alike. Now based in over 100 South African schools, their programmes are implemented as part of the curriculum or extramural activity. But Van Wyk says the hallmark of their strategy is how they deal with issues of bullying: “Our lessons address bullying from both angles. A lot of people only deal with the victim. But what if I am the bully? And if so, how does my behaviour affect other people?”
She feels that bullying is a big problem in South African schools, especially now. “Children are lacking in self-confidence and you’ll notice that there are a lot more victims than before.”
Van Wyk puts it down to the fact that today’s generation is exposed to more international content, saying: “Our children want to behave like the characters they see on TV and they think it’s acceptable - they don’t know how to differentiate between reality and TV.”
The organisation is a strong advocate for anti-bullying campaigns and offers bullying workshops at numerous schools, even if they are not affiliated to Manners4Minors.
“We educate the child. If everyone is on the same page and understand what it is they are doing, then we are teaching children to help each other and empower themselves.”