For about seven years now your child has handled the routine of school pretty well, with the same teacher and the same classmates every day. Now your child is in middle school, and her relationships just got really complex. In a day’s work she has to communicate with several different teachers who teach different subjects in different styles--the math teacher has a  great sense of humor and doesn‘t mind a little noise, but the science teacher expects complete quiet. Adjusting behaviors and responding to different sets of expectations can be a tricky task. It takes resiliency, patience and, most of all, a healthy dose of manners. Education and manners expert Cindy Post Senning says parents play a key role in guiding their children through adolescence to become compassionate and mannerly adults. Post co-authored a book on the subject of teaching manners by age called The Gift of Good Manners: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Respectful, Kind, Considerate Children. Here’s a breakdown of the fundamentals:

Teach Values: Disciplining your teen can be a lesson in contradictions--you’re trying to give him independence while simultaneously guiding him along during a tumultuous time in his life.  Post says though there may need to be fewer rules as your child enters this age range, the rules need to be crystal clear and the consequences of breaking those rules even clearer. That said, Post advises that where rules can be negotiated, let your child make their case.

Encourage R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sometimes, Post says, the job of a parent is to be the scapegoat. While consistently rude behavior needs reining in, parents should keep in mind that your moody adolescent needs a “release valve” and often that’s you. Don’t take the outbursts personally, but instead let your child know that you understand her feelings. She’ll grow to appreciate your unconditional love and respect for her emotional needs, and  learn to incorporate those aspects into her own life.

Work on Communication: Social interaction can take a hard hit during the hormone-infused adolescent years. Post encourages parents give these guidelines:

  • Make eye contact. If your child gets shy or self-conscious, remind him how uncomfortable it feels when you’re talking to someone who won’t look at you.
  • Never make whispered comments or jokes when other people are present. Let them know it’s not cool, it just makes you look mean.
  • Silence electronic equipment. Encourage your child to talk to guests, or at least keep the volume at a level where others can converse.
  • Remove headsets and ear pieces when speaking or being spoken to by anyone.
  • Reading isn’t appropriate during instruction, live performances, worship services, etc.

Groom Good Table Manners: By this point in his development, your child should have a handle on basic table manners. Post suggests that parents teach some of the finer points of dining by helping your child host a dinner party. Plan a multi-course meal and use dinnerware and table linens. To get the full hosting experience your child should be involved in the shopping, cooking, cleaning, setting the table, etc. He should be prepared for other duties such as taking coats, making introductions and keeping the conversation going.

Get Out-and-About: Cars: If a preteen has an older friend or an older sibling, it can be their first ticket to a bit of freedom. Parents need to take careful control over who is driving their child. Is your child’s older friend allowed to drive younger children? If it’s an older sibling there should be a firm set of rules for driver and passenger. For example, your older child is not allowed to take the younger child on side trips and the younger child must be on time when getting picked-up.

Post says teaching manners to adolescents isn’t as hard as it sounds. In fact, because adolescents take their relationships more seriously at this age, they are even more in-tune with the fundamentals of manners: consideration for others, respect, tact and flexibility. They just need a little guidance on how to implement these concepts into their daily lives.