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Teaching Social Skills to Kids

A few months ago, I ran into a neighbor at the library.  As I stopped to say hello, her 12-year-old son did something that shocked me.  He looked me in the eye and said, “It’s nice to see you again.”  I just about fell over.  Here was a middle school kid who not only acknowledged my presence, he did so in the most polite and respectful way.  I immediately fell in love and began plotting his future wedding to my 9-year-old.

Sadly, that fine young man’s grasp of proper social skills seems to be a rare thing.   Not a day goes by that some child doesn’t phone my house and demand to speak to my kid without even saying hello first.  They don’t identify themselves and they never, ever say please.  And don’t even get me started on birthday parties.  They show up, toss a gift my way and barge right in.  And when they leave, they rarely say thank you.  I am regularly stunned by the lack of basic social skills possessed by kids today.

Faye Rogaski feels the same way.  When teaching a college level communications class, she says she was shocked by the social ineptitude she witnessed among her students.  They dressed for class like they were going to the beach and their vocabularies didn’t include the words “please” and “thank you.”  They didn’t introduce themselves or offer handshakes in greeting.

Realizing that college is far too late to begin instilling the manners that everyone needs to succeed, Rogaski started socialsklz, a New York City area school that equips kids from 4 to 17 with the “tools to thrive in the modern world.”

In her classes, young children learn the importance of eye contact, handshakes, and proper phone etiquette.  They learn table manners and how to write a thank you note.  Tweens are coached on speaking properly without the all the “ums” and “ya knows” and are even instructed on proper text messaging and email ettiquette.  And teens learn all those social graces and more, including college and job interview skills.

Rogaski’s school is a great idea but she’s teaching something that parents used to teach their own children.  I don’t know if  today’s parents weren’t taught these things themselves or if they just don’t see the importance.  Or perhaps it’s a geographical thing.  I currently live in the Northeast but was raised in the South where failure to exhibit proper manners was a punishable offense.

While there is a school in the UK that teaches basic social skills to children as young as three, here that task generally falls to parents. Who, based on my own experience, are clearly falling down on the job.

What do you think?  Does your child need a social skills class?  Do you?

Image: rolands.lakis/Flickr

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