Advice

Should kids be forced to write thank-you notes?

Jan. 22, 2013 at 12:14 PM ET

Are good manners going the way of the Dodo bird? While most of us were raised to write thank-you notes promptly, it seems some of us haven’t passed that bit of etiquette onto our kids. 

Philip Galanes, New York Times columnist and author of the book, “Social Q’s: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today,” discussed the disappearing thank-you card and other etiquette dilemmas facing parents on TODAY.

Galanes recounted the story of a grandmother of nine who wrote to him that she has never received a thank-you card for any of the birthday and Christmas presents she has given her grandchildren over the years. She was annoyed, but unsure how to demand a bit of gratitude – a predicament that offended Matt Lauer, father of three. “I think it’s unacceptable that they don’t write any thank you notes,” Matt said.

So, what did the manners expert recommend? “Call the older grandchildren and call the parents of the younger grandchildren and say ‘It’d be really nice if I could hear when you get the gifts and how the kids liked them’,” Galanes said.

"Dear Grandma, Thanks for the books for Christmas. I really like them." There, was that so hard?
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"Dear Grandma, Thanks for the books for Christmas. I really like them." There, was that so hard?

Many of the grandparents who read his column favored a more subversive approach, suggesting that the grandma send the grandkids things like unsigned checks or empty gift boxes to get the point across. Others suggested including a pre-printed thank-you note with the gifts.

Galanes noted that while the older generation was all for giving today’s youngsters a bit of a nudge to prompt good etiquette, many kids were having none of it. “I think we’re in a generational shift. I think we’re in a serious shift,” Galanes said.

From kids, Galanes heard things like, “I’ve never bought (or even seen) a stamp in my life.”  Another said, “If I have to send a thank you note, I’d rather not get a gift,” – a sentiment that horrified mom-of-two Natalie Morales, who responded, “That’s terrible! That’s awful.”

As a generation of parents, have we just gotten too busy for good manners? Have we decided that saying thank you just isn’t worth the hassle?

Another hot button etiquette topic the group discussed was how to handle a crying baby in a public place. Galanes recalled the story of a young mom who’d written that she felt frustrated when strangers offered unsolicited advice for how to soothe her fussy baby, even going so far as to pop a pacifier in her child's mouth. Again, Galanes noted a generational divide. Older readers believed that fussy babies should be removed from public places, and bemoaned today’s “entitled parents.” However, younger readers felt that we should be more patient with new moms and that people should accept a little crying as a fact of life.

Dana Macario is a Seattle-area mom who emails thank-you videos from her preschool-age children, so they can express their gratitude themselves. But, as soon as they know how to write, they’ll be putting pen to paper.

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