Enrollment of children in etiquette classes is thriving across America. Clubs, restaurants, malls, hotels, schools and even department stores are stepping up to meet the increasing demand from parents to teach children such basic protocol as how to greet people, use cutlery and sit up straight.
Educators attribute the boom in the charm business, which has just about quadrupled since 2000 in some areas, to a number of factors. First, the increasing number of busy parents who want well-behaved children but who don’t have time to teach them. This has probably been the reason most expressed by parents enrolling their children.
Others say it’s thanks to the “increasingly crass nature of so much pop culture” (Forbes.com, Aug. 10, 2004). Some parents are uncomfortable with the social influences of culture models like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
Then there’s the fact that most families don’t eat together, or else they eat in front of the television, which means that children’s eating habits and conversational skills aren’t getting the attention they need.
In many cases, parents themselves don’t possess the social graces and knowledge they need to teach.
But perhaps one of the saddest factors in the boom is that children are more responsive to outside instructors than to parents who are trying to teach them. According to the etiquette program director at the Plaza Hotel in New York, “The classes are effective because children are more apt to listen to an etiquette teacher than their parents” (Christian Science Monitor, January 25).
A child may leave school having learned to look someone in the eye when they are being spoken to, but that is nothing compared to the importance of being taught to honor their parents—something an etiquette course can’t teach. These courses may be teaching children how to behave in public, but learning to be polite to parents in private can seem like the most difficult lesson to a child.
The trend highlights an even more foundational understanding needed in child rearing—that children don’t have instincts. They must be taught, and that is why God provided parents. He intended that they create an instructive family environment. Habits that children don’t learn at home they will learn from our corrupt culture—including whether it is normal and better to be rude or well-mannered.