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Etiquette & Manners for Teens

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19-year-old's terrible eating manners

August 2010

Our 19-year old son is a wonderful person in all ways except one: his eating habits. Even when we are guests at others' homes, he wolfs down large portions and keeps his complete focus only on his plate; he frequently takes very large second (and third) helpings; notwithstanding our repeated reminders, he ''helps'' his salad and other food onto the fork w/ his fingers -- in short, his eating habits are poor and embarrassing. Perhaps the failing is ours (altho our 17-yr- old daughter has none of these habits, so we must have done something right). We thought this might improve after a year of college but it hasn't. When we point something out to him at home, he makes light of it and we are reluctant to confront him directly about it in a general way for fear it will make him feel bad about himself and make him very self-conscious. We are by no means very formal people, but we don't want this to reflect badly on him (or us) as he starts to be in more adult situations in the future. We would welcome suggestions. Thanks. Perplexed

It is probably too late now, since is an adult, but you can still tell him that when he is eating at your table, such manners aren't allowed. If he won't accomodate your wishes, have him eat in another room. parent of teens
Hello, To be honest, I think you are doing your son a big disservice not to really work with him on this. My daughter is 12 now and I find that when she has friends over that don't have decent table manners it is a bit of a turn-off. It isn't cute or really all that understandable after a certain age. I remember having a realtor with bad table manners and even though that wasn't part of his job description it was a turn-off. I think you need to talk to him about it. Don't be wishy-washy about it being an up for grabs choice. It will affect him socially and professionally. Maybe he can have his choice whether he reads a book, attends a class, looks online or you lay it out but he just needs to do this. I am sorry you didn't work with him earlier when it was a more comfortable topic (when he was a child) and you can tell him that was your fault, but you need to find a way to really talk to him about it. It is totally unpleasant for other people to be around. Good luck. Mom who insists on decent manners
Ah, this is not an issue of intellect and manners. This is animal training. And you as the trainer are sending the wrong signals and confusing the animal and making yourself upset.

Your wolf-son is very hungry, so as long as he associates the dinner table with satiating his bottomless pit of hunger, he will neglect all other niceties like napkins, forks, conversation and actually tasting the food you spent time preparing.

So separate these two actions. This is how you do it. A couple of hours before the real meal, have him taken to a cheap dive all-you-can-eat locale to gorge himself. Let the animal overfeed. Yes, it's gross, but he'll probably love it.

Now for the real meal. Make it formal. Put out extra forks and spoons and stuff. Make it really complicated to eat. And then be *hypercritical* of his eating habits. Demand conversation. Talk about how each mouthful of wonderful food you've prepared (or had prepared) tastes. Gee - one guy I know loves to have sushi texture discussions with about 15 different types of tuna. Or different types of olives (there are about a gazillion). Cheese assortments are also good, plus any complicated fruit. Use weird utensils. Make it a competition!

Once he gets the message it's not about gorging, it's about social interaction, he'll start playing the game. And he'll be more popular in college - rare sushi dishes, unusual coffees and elaborate Chinese menus were a staple of my college years, and resulted in a couple of startups, so it is important. Lynne

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