Sage Advice: Wonderful Grandson, Terrible Table Manners

By Amy Dickinson | March 3rd, 2020

Is it possible to subtly teach table manners to a teenager?


Teenager at the table with bad table manners Image

Dear Amy: We have recently been reunited with our son’s child after 10 years. He is 13 – and is delightful, well behaved, and intelligent.

However, unfortunately, he has terrible table manners.

We went to a restaurant and it soon became apparent that he has never been shown how to use a knife, a napkin, etc.

I didn’t want to be critical, so I tried saying things like, “I find it easier to cut my food if I hold the knife this way,” or, “I put my napkin in my lap so I can wipe me mouth,” – that sort of thing.

This was met with a blank look and the behavior resumed.

It won’t be possible to speak to his mother about it, and again, I don’t want to be critical.

How can I teach him table manners, other than modeling good behavior?

– Mannerly Grandmother

Dear Mannerly: You have just met this boy. I infer from this that there has been substantial upheaval in his life – perhaps a parental split and possibly a custody shift.

If his father is on the scene, it would be most logical to speak with him about it. You might assume that he has mainly eaten directly out of fast-food bags.

I wouldn’t present this as a top-line concern, however – because the whole family is readjusting to your grandson’s re-emergence, you should step carefully and kindly into his life.

Adolescent boys are sensitive and tender creatures, with acute awareness about being judged by others, and they are surrounded by conflicting and confusing messages about how they should behave.

For now, don’t correct him, hint, nudge, or use body language to convey your disapproval.

You want to be the people in his life who completely accept him, right now – just as he is. When he is feeling more comfortable, he will relax and start watching how you comport yourselves, and over time you can model and offer gentle instruction.

A great way to introduce table manners is to involve him in cooking a meal. All teens should know how to make a stack of tasty pancakes.

Show him how to set the table. And then sit down and eat together.


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In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2020 by Amy Dickinson

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