My Teenager Seems to Have Forgotten Their Manners

connecting with your teenager Nov 21, 2021

I received this question from a parent.   

My 13 year old seems to have forgotten any manners. No thank you when someone drops her off, or please at a restaurant or anything.   Any ideas?


Having manners, being kind and respectful are fundamental elements of a loving character.     In this scenario, the teenager seems to have “forgotten” her manners which implies that these lessons have already been taught.   

There are two possibilities here.   First, they are simply distracted by everything that it is to be a teenager.   So my initial thought is to remind them in a respectful and compassionate way.

First remind them through your actions.   Take an honest look at how you are modeling kindness and manners.   In this situation it may be helpful to emphasize your gratitude, especially with your teenager.   For example:   While at dinner, say to your teen.   “Sarah, Could you please pass the salt?”   When she does, emphasize the thank you...say “Thank you I really appreciate that.”   This may seem a little basic but sometimes the best way to regain your form is to focus on the fundamentals.

Secondly, offer a simple verbal reminder at the appropriate time.   For example: When your teenager gets home from school you make them a snack to eat while they are doing their homework.   As you set the snack down, if there is no acknowledgement or thank you, you simply say “Manners' “.    The key here is to be mindful of your mindset.    If you are coming from a place of disappointment or anger, your teenager will pick up on this.   They will feel attacked and as if you are trying to control them, consequently they will put up their defenses.    Which is exactly what you would do if someone did this to you.    Instead, reframe their lack of response from a perspective of compassion and forgiveness.    Now, when you say “manners” it will be received as a loving reminder of their childhood lessons about kindness and respect.     I can’t emphasize enough how important your mindset is here.   It is not what you say.   It is all about how you say it.

Now it is quite possible that your teenager will not respond to your compassionate reminder.   If this is the case, I would suggest that through this “bad behavior” they are calling out to you.   They are calling for your love and to reconnect.   Something is going on that has them feeling isolated, overwhelmed, or uncertain.    Maybe something has happened within their friend group.   Maybe they are overwhelmed by the newness of the start of a new school year.   Maybe they are struggling with one or more of their classes.   The point is this is not about the lack of manners.   The lack of manners is a symptom or a signal that they need to level up their connection with you.   Start with a compassionate check in on how they are doing.   Something like this:

“Sarah, you seem like you have been a little off lately.   I can only imagine how overwhelming being a freshman is.   The high school is so much bigger and the classes have got to be harder.   Is there anything you would like to talk about?  I promise to just listen. “   

If they don’t open up at this point, you just need to continue to develop your connection.   Once the connection is strong enough they will either open up to you or they will resolve the issue themself.   In either case they will rediscover their own gratitude and the manners will return.  


Love is always the answer.


Jim White

Family Enrichment Coach





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