The Problem with Manners in Today’s Society

A group of University of Arizona students on their cellphones while eating at Illegal Peete’s. (Photo by Simone McCarthy)

Checking a text message at the dinner table is rude. Not covering your mouth when you cough is rude. Not holding the door open for an elderly person is rude.

Etiquette experts believe these are all signs of troubled times in today’s generation.

The cellphone has become a distraction and has created a society that lacks common courtesies. Good manners simply means considering the feelings of others and being the kind of person others want to be around.

Experts say there are many Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to proper etiquette. Technology, age and family upbringings are all major influences on how one acts and behaves.

SueAnn Brown is a certified etiquette instructor and the founder of an etiquette program, “It’s All About Etiquette” located in Scottsdale, AZ. Her mother was an actress and often had dinner parties so Brown learned at a young age how to entertain and be polite.

“We are not kind to each other anymore,” said Brown. “Murders have gone up a lot and violence and so forth, and I think its all related to the lack of respect for another human being.”

Brown explained how frustrating it is to go to a restaurant and constantly see people on their phones, not communicating with each other. “I think as long as we are not living in a cave we are always going to have to communicate and have social interactions,” said Brown.

What is the problem with today’s society and the lack of manners? “It’s that darn cellphone,” said Brown. “It is disrupting our society.”

People are too busy scrolling through their phones or texting and can’t focus on the person standing right in front of them. There are certain levels of etiquette that are expected in today’s world and Brown believes the cell phone is the biggest problem.

Children learn from example and it usually starts at home, with parents. “I think sometimes parents are super busy,” said Brown. “I think a lot of the parents are working and there is a little bit of a disconnect with the children.”

“A lot of these kids don’t sit down and eat with their parents anymore at the dinner table, so they don’t know how to eat properly,” said Brown. “They are sitting in front of a TV, they have a cellphone, they just aren’t spending that quality time with the family and its basically the cellphone.”

Brown has created a teaching system that uses role play and puts children into a situation that allows them to feel how their actions may affect someone, both good and bad.

Having good table and dining manners will benefit you in your personal and professional life. Brown believes it is a huge part of who we are as individuals. Most public schools don’t teach etiquette and that may be another issue in today’s society.

One program at the University of Arizona strongly believes in the value of etiquette. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) hosted the 4th annual  CALS Etiquette Dinner offering students a chance to develop essential skills that will help them in the profession world.

Kyle Sharp, assistant director of Career and Academic Services in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona, explained the dinner covers the basics of business interaction. From table etiquette to phone etiquette.

Students learn which fork to use, how to handle if you drop something, interacting with guests and wait staff, shaking hands, conversation, staying off your phone are all good manners.

Sharp believes many students are intimidated by the word “etiquette” and manners. “The biggest challenges we hear from employers are phone use during meals at interviews or with clients, and proper protocol when ordering and/or consuming alcohol at a professional function,” said Sharp.

He went on to explain the importance of etiquette. “First and foremost is, it is a sign of professionalism and attention to detail which is important for employers when hiring a young professional,” said Sharp. He also believes knowing certain skills helps students feel more at ease in a new setting.

“Finally, etiquette shows respect for those around you, colleagues, clients, leaders and the wait staff,” said Sharp. “In other words good manners and proper etiquette show you care about those around you.”

“As technology has become more pervasive in our lives it just seems natural to check your phone during a meal,” said Sharp. “Since it has become such a habit for most, it is the furthest thing from their mind that it could be insulting to their host or fellow guests to do so.”

Simone McCarthy is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at 

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