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Manners on the Menu for Teens

Posted: 18/12/2012 17:50

At a secondary school in rural Cornwall, teenagers are benefitting from a course in manners.
Thirty teenage boys, ages 15 and 16 chose to sign up for these lessons; that's a third of the year group. They were not pushed or henpecked into it.

These young men could have been playing football or spending an afternoon surfing on the Cornish coast once a fortnight, but instead they opted to dress up in their best suits and attend a session in etiquette at a posh hotel in Fowey.

When Fowey Community College decided to promote the course, the national media jumped on the story, with extensive coverage on UK radio and TV. The school then received calls from establishments around the country keen to do similar things for their students to give them the very advantage that pure grades - no matter how many A*s - cannot.

Emails flooded in from the public, all of whom were delighted to see an emphasis being placed on the skills which oil our nation's social wheels. An interview request from the BBC World Service proved that an emphasis on etiquette is not specifically a British thing - teenage manners are of global interest.

One of our teachers asked me if I had an inkling of this level of media response this story would generate, and I confess that I did after just a year working with teenagers and witnessing the negative way in which they are perceived.

There is a collective fear of teenagers and society despairs at the generation which seems unable to knuckle down, the generation with too many choices, a selfish generation which doesn't care about their community or wider world - and, of course, wears a hoodie. Not only this, these kids will be funding our collective pensions.

It's a fear which strikes right to the heart of the middle classes, and therefore this feel-good story of boys learning old-fashioned values has captured the hearts of a marginalised, middle-class Britain.

But for the boys it's more than that. The school's fortnightly etiquette course enables these state-educated boys to begin to feel comfortable in any social situation - an innate advantage normally reserved for their privately educated peers.

Finally, with boys now lagging behind girls in both exam results and socially, it's time to redress the balance and give them a real advantage at a new level. This isn't about etiquette, it's about increasing the confidence of teenagers.

Here's an example of how it happens: when I asked Jake, a Year 11 student on the etiquette course, to talk to the media about his experience a couple of months ago, he reluctantly agreed to do so for no other reason than he's a nice chap and is always happy to help out, even if it means he has to drag himself out of bed an hour early to get to a studio.

Several media interviews later with national and international press, including the broadcasting legend John Humphrys, Jake strode assertively up the corridor and said: "Miss, if there are any other interviews, I want to be the one to do them. It's actually really good fun."

It was like striking gold. This is the sort of confidence that the course, and all its subsequent opportunities, will help to develop.

State schools are now sitting up and taking notice - it really is manners which make the man.

 

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