I speak regularly to young people about “modern manners”… and before I meet them I often wonder if they inwardly groan at the thought of speaking with an “etiquette consultant“. However, once I have engaged with them on subjects such as appropriate dating, social media, and table etiquette I realise that the young 15 and 16 year olds are increasingly naturally reverting to the respect and consideration of manners to which my generation were forced to adhere. These young people are so aware of the pitfalls of social media that they are developing their own codes of manners. The Springtime of the new etiquette I wonder?…not taught in a rigid sense but valued as common sense.

During the last school holidays I coached two teenagers through my program Modern Etiquette and Manners for Teens. They are both highly intelligent young adults but in both cases their mothers felt that their social skills could use assistance, not only to encourage greater participation in the social life around them, but to help them in gaining confidence.

The first client, aged 16, has been accepted to attend Magdalen College in Oxford this year. She is extremely bright but socially very young for her age. She is very pleasant but with virtually no social skills and a tendency to say whatever comes to mind at the time. She has few friends and spends a great deal of her time in chat forums on the internet with like minded people.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of our day together was at the dining table. Included in my program is a three course formal luncheon. This young lady had never used a knife and fork…together. And when I suggested that she use the knife in her right hand, she queried why she would do that when she was right handed and so should use the fork in her right hand as it was a more useful tool. She advised me that her family, with both parents being busy doctors, never ate at the family table together; but if they ate at a table it was with a fork, spoon and fingers only.

While in this day and age of McDonalds and other “finger food” outlets there is certainly a place for hand held food, I was astonished that a young girl of 16 would never have been taught the essentials of modern dining etiquette. After taking some hours at the table encouraging her to try with the traditional cutlery I abandoned any thought of introducing her to the dining etiquette of Asian cuisine and chopsticks.

At the end of our day together I certainly gained the impression that she had developed some level of confidence in taking her first tentative steps towards understanding the role and requirement of manners in interacting with people, and the situations in which she will find herself, particularly when she arrives in Oxford.

My second client was 17 and has recently commenced studying Law and Commerce at a local university. A most pleasant young man, he was also more content with his own company, his piano, books and coin collection than with his peers. Having been bought up as an only child with his mother, she had contacted me with a view to encouraging him to be more aware of his surroundings and those people with whom he will be attending university. They both spent the day with me also taking the Modern Etiquette and Manners for Teens course.

While naturally shy, he certainly contributed to our discussions and was intent on questioning my reasoning on several aspects of etiquette. He was keen to overcome his shyness and even participated in some role play activities with confidence.

At the dining table he was open to suggestions. He and his mother, both being Chinese, only speak Mandarin at home and only eat at Chinese restaurants. He has little knowledge of western dining etiquette, but through no fault of his mother. She was adamant that she wanted him to have the knowledge and for herself, it was a matter of understanding what to do, why and when and to reconfirm her own knowledge.

I am not surprised that parents of intelligent children in particular want them to be as well rounded as possible. The world is ever shrinking and these brilliant young people will be able to work anywhere in the world. I would like to think that I have assisted them with their growing social confidence. I requested that both of these special young people keep in touch. One of the great pleasures I am able to enjoy at The Percy Institute is to follow the careers of my clients. Young people who have gone on to be Rhodes Scholars have passed through the Institute and it is so very rewarding to follow their journeys.

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