Today, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bring a troubling trend to our attention: manners are dead. Modern society has made it so hard for kids to have proper manners, that parents are outsourcing basic social skills, like shaking hands and eye contact, to a company called SocialSklz:-) (emoticon included), while even the American South is no longer breeding a proud line of gentlechildren. Documentation of our mannerless nation came in two separate reports from The Wall Street Journal's Sophia Hollander and Melanie Grayce West and The New York Times's Kim Severson. Where have manners gone? The two newspapers have plenty of reasons for why the youth need a special class that describes itself as teaching "the basics of face-to-face interaction and good body language."
Bad Parenting Of course this all leads back to lazy parents. "To parents and supporters, the classes are a handy way for busy, often affluent parents to instill important values in their children's lives," write Hollander and West. Two working parents just can't teach kids how to behave properly, ballroom dance teacher Dorothy McLeod told Severson. Mrs. McLeod attributes the slide of civility on the stress of families with two working parents and children who have not been held accountable for their actions," writes Severson. But it's not just that parents are too busy to instill values into their children, they, too -- perhaps from spending too much time with technology -- don't feel equipped to teach proper manners. "Some said they enrolled their children because they felt unable to provide the lessons themselves."
Manners Were a Social Prison Back in the day, politeness had a lot to do with putting an insincere face forward. And a lot of the rules only served to perpetuate racism and sexism. "Strict rules regarding courtesy and deference to others have historically been used as a way to enforce a social order in which women and African-Americans were considered less than full citizens," explains Severson. Now that people are theoretically no longer racist and sexist, certain social codes, a.k.a manners, don't apply anymore. Like, giving up a seat for a woman at a bar comes off as kind of chauvinistic.
Technology Cell phones and digital communication in general have completely changed the way people interact. Kids are so attached to their gadgets that they get "carpel tunnel" rather than learn acceptable social skills, explain Hollander and Grayce West. Children devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media each day and 66 percent of those kids own cell phones. With less human talk time, kids aren't learning how to interact in the actual world. Not only does technology limit face-to-face time, but it also has increased the amount of communication people have. For those in the South, Severson explains, the Internet and cell phones have let all impolite evils infiltrate the once polite, isolated culture.
Everyone Wants to Be a New Yorker This is both part of the problem and the solution. New Yorkers come off as impolite. And as they've trickled down to the South they've brought their culture of rudeness. The thing is not all New Yorkers are really that rude. The rich, successful ones have a desirable swag. "If you want to get a job, if you want to work here, this is the way you're supposed to talk to people, this is the way you're supposed to dress," Ramón Severino, a Bronx native working in Soho as a doorman told Hollander and West. "I said, 'Wow, I want my daughter to be like that.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.