Q: What prompted you to write this book?
I was inspired to write How Rude! by countless ill-mannered, oblivious, disgusting, self-centered adults who reminded me on a daily basis that we don't need another generation like THAT. And on those rare occasions during the writing process when motivation flagged, I just went for a walk so that I could be run over by a skateboarder, elbowed off a sidewalk, or snarled at by a sales clerk.
Until How Rude!, etiquette books for teenagers were, in my opinion, preachy, condescending, and rather removed from the real lives of young people. It almost seemed as if the people writing them didn't like kids! These books told you how to curtsy if you met the Queen, but not how to survive in the lunchroom or the locker room. Since adults had dropped the ball in teaching manners, I decided to write a book for teens that would provide helpful, relevant advice, and be fun, funny, and enlightening to read.
Q: What prompted you to update the old edition?
When I wrote the first edition of How Rude! in the mid-1990s, teenagers didn’t have cell phones and most families didn’t have computers. There was no Facebook or Google. No tweeting, trending, or texting. If something went viral you gave it an antibiotic. Fast forward to today. People are crankier than ever. I still get run over by skateboarders and ignored by sales clerks. But now, kids come out of the womb wearing earbuds. Parents yell “no electronics at the table.” Ask people about their “significant other” and they’ll show you their smartphone.
Young people today inhabit social media and virtual worlds in a manner unlike any previous generation. It is as real an environment to them as the playground is to a preschooler. With all these changes transforming our culture and the world of teens, I knew it was time to update How Rude! and address the new manners violations made possible by 21st-century technological advances.
Q: Do you think people’s manners are getting worse and why?
Manners are definitely getting worse. In fact, approximately 75% of parents and educators I surveyed for the revised How Rude! believe that teenagers AND adults today are less polite than were teens and adults a generation ago. This is for many reasons. People are stressed out, fearful, and self-focused. They feel entitled to instant gratification and are increasingly disconnected from culture and community. New technologies have created distance and anonymity between people. The media present ignorant, boorish, mean, and narcissistic behavior as entertaining and rewarding. We’ve turned into a self-centered society—more “me” than “we.” The concept of sacrifice for the common good has died out. Families are under great strain and fewer practice the rituals by which good manners are passed from one generation to the next. Parents are less involved and some have abdicated their role in teaching manners to their children, wanting to be their kids’ friend rather than parent.
Q: What need does your book fill?
How Rude! shows teens how they can use good manners to build fulfilling relationships, get what they want out of life, and feel good about themselves. Teens with good manners come out on top. Good manners bring opportunities and privileges, and are so rare today that kids who have them stand out from the crowd. I hope How Rude! will inspire a renaissance of civility that will save society from a total manners meltdown and get people to RSVP the next time I give a party.
Q: How do you convince teens of the importance of good manners?
Teens don’t need convincing. They need guidance and role modeling. Ninety-nine percent of teens I surveyed agreed that “it’s important to have good manners.” Well-behaved kids get noticed and rewarded. Teens with savoir faire know how to make others feel good, and people who feel good are more likely to give them a job, agree to their requests, and enjoy their company. Knowing how to behave in all kinds of situations builds confidence, which helps to keep teens cool, calm, and collected in the face of stressful events and interactions.
Q: Are you saying that teens should be polite out of self-interest?
Teens should recognize that the values underlying good manners—respect, consideration, empathy—are important in and of themselves. Good manners are the first line of defense against daily irritations, conflict, and even violence. Behaving responsibly, acting with kindness, and caring about others is the moral and ethical high road. While teens should be polite because it’s the “right” way to live, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that good manners are good for them! Good manners are impressive, attractive, and increasingly hard to find. Teens with good manners are more likely to get what they want out of their life, relationships, and parents. And, good manners don’t cost anything. You can have the best for free! There aren’t many things you can say that about.
Q: Aren’t people with good manners considered to be brown-nosers?
There is no correlation between good manners and the color of one’s nose. Brown-nosers have a bad rep because their “good manners” come across as phony and self-serving. People with truly good manners can be phony and self-serving without appearing so.
Q: How have technology and social media changed the way proper etiquette is practiced?
The basic principles of how one should behave haven’t changed. For example, it’s always been rude to pull out a book and start reading while talking to someone. So, why would it be okay to check your text messages while talking to someone?
New technologies simply offer new ways to be rude, leading to new sets of do’s and don’ts: Do step outside or move away from the group to take your call; don’t post rude or hurtful messages; do ask permission before sharing other people’s photos or personal information.
Taken together, all of these technologies threaten good manners. Relating through electronic devices creates a breeding ground for rudeness since it’s easier to be rude anonymously or remotely; you get less practice for “real” relationships; and, for most people, brief written communications are more likely than face-to-face interactions to lead to rude, insensitive, or misinterpreted remarks.
Q: What qualifies you to be Manners Guru to the Youth of America?
That’s easy: My academic and professional expertise in psychology, education, adolescent development, parenting, and family relations; my flawless behavior and demented sense of humor; my having had my mouth washed out with soap as a child and being raised by parents who were unable to hear requests that did not include "please" or "may I." As a child I was a precocious bon vivant and adventurer. Traveling abroad by myself at age 15 and subsequently to over 35 countries provided me with a deep understanding of the diversity of rudeness of which the human species is capable. I am also pathologically prompt, considerate, and responsible, and possessed of a highly developed sense of outrage at boors, bigots, ingrates, narcissists, hypocrites, and, at the risk of being redundant, politicians.