Why teach kids some old-fashioned decorum?

Mar 11, 2011 at 12:15 p.m. ET

In our age of social networking, kids are more focused on updating their Facebook profiles and creating emoticons than on face-to-face communication. Although their friend list may be a mile long, would your kids know how to actually converse with a real, live human being should the opportunity present itself? The answer could be "yes" if you take the time to teach them about old-fashioned decorum.

boy writing with pencil

If you've been inspired to teach your kids the finer points of personal communication, take some pointers from Julee Morrison, mom of six and the brain behind the popular blog, Mommy's Memorandum.

Social norms

It seems a mother's job includes dealing with a myriad of ever-changing social norms. It used to be that kids would learn to answer phones, look adults in the eye and express themselves clearly and tactfully. But with the influx of Facebook, Twitter and texting, it has become socially acceptable for kids to ignore the real people around them in favor their cyber-social circle.

"I ask my children, 'When did we become so self-absorbed that we cannot display human courteousness to the living, breathing human being that we elected to engage with whether it is for business or pleasure?'" says Morrison. "Unfortunately, I was the living, breathing human being at that moment and they needed to update their Facebook and reply to a text."

Teaching decorum

The bottom line is, if you're not teaching your kids proper decorum and communication skills, they probably won't learn them. Truth be told, if you put in the effort, your kids will likely stand out as personal communication experts in their social circles.

"I'm hoping to teach my children that life does not stop for an appliance," says Morrison. "Life is to be shared face-to-face with people we love, people we inspire and people who happen to be given the opportunity to engage with us."

Making memories

Considering the amount of time our kids are spending in cyberspace, the opportunities to make positive memories can be limited, unless we deliberately encourage personal interactions. "Very few memories are created through Facebook, Twitter and texting," says Morrison. "I want my children to experience the diversity of being human. It's face-to-face conversations that teach us to understand someone."

Practical tips

The experience of teaching six kids the art of decorum makes Morrison uniquely qualified to provide some useful practical tips. She says:

  • My children cannot play with a gift someone has given them without first writing a thank you note.
  • My children send hand-written letters to their grandparents who are out of state. We include pictures they draw and they must use their best penmanship.
  • Texting is not allowed when we are having a family dinner or game night.
  • When my kids can afford a cell phone, they can have one. Not before.
  • I teach my kids proper phone etiquette, including how to ask for someone on the phone.

Remember, it's sometimes easy for us as parents to take social graces for granted but these days, we just can't afford to do so.

What do you think? Should kids have cell phones? Are online interactions less authentic than face-to-face? How much should parents worry about this "digital native" generation?

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