Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Lesson on Etiquette - If we want good behavior we need to model good behavior

I went away with my mom and sisters this weekend, just for the night. We traveled an hour to New York City and bought tickets to see a Broadway show. I love Broadway! It is two and half hours (or so) where I can just forget everything in the outside world and be transported into whatever story-line is singing and dancing in front of me on the stage. Nothing in the world tops the magic of live theater in my opinion, but last night was different.

As I sat in the audience, I was downright disgusted by the behavior of the audience members. There were candy wrappers constantly being opened, people checking their cell-phones throughout the performance, loud talking, rude comments and even people singing loudly along with the performers. My world view came to a screeching halt. I went from being annoyed by all the audience members around me to feeling so sad that our culture no longer understands the importance of etiquette and proper behavior. I thought about how many articles and posts I read from members of the special needs community voicing their concerns that people judge the sometimes inappropriate behaviors of their children or family members. And suddenly, I was laughing. That theater was not filled with a group of special needs children, and quite honestly, my own special needs daughter has behaved better at performances than 90% of the audience last night. Due to the nature of Little Miss M's autism and other special needs, we have to work so hard to teach her how to behave in various situations and what is appropriate. I find it interesting that I work so hard to teach my daughter what is appropriate, but the general public seems to have very little respect for what proper behavior actually entails.
Things that make you go: Hmmmm???!!! Right??

In my case, I realized very quickly that Little Miss M behaves appropriately because I have taught her how to, by my example. I sit quietly. I wait until intermission to open my candy wrappers. I turn my cell phone to silent and leave it hidden in my purse or jacket pocket. I watch and listen. Even though I love to sing, I have taught my daughters that we can sing and we should sing, but not in a theater where the performers are paid to do so. I think what I've tried to instill in my children is respect. This isn't a quality you can demand from anyone. You have to teach it by example.

As a teacher, I taught a lesson on performance etiquette every year. You'd be surprised to know that most middle school children could actually create the list of Do's and Don'ts for performances all by themselves. What they really need is adults to show them, by example, how to behave. If adults show respect for others at all times, our children will follow suit. Special needs or not, the principles are the same. Even the children who rarely leave a world that is black and white, who hold onto routine with a stiff rigidity and who may not be able to expresses themselves properly if at all can learn basic respect if we show it to them. If we respect them, logic says, respect will follow and transcend into other areas.

What started as a tiny annoyance for me at the show, blossomed into so much more. Every child watches the world around them, whether completely understanding everything or not. I know I cannot change the world, nor can blanket statements of leading by example change anything, but what if we start small? What if we start by making sure we all know the rules for public performances? Will that make a change? If you think it will, feel free to share my Rules for Performance Etiquette with anyone around you. Also, if you feel I have missed anything, please add it in the comment section below so we may update our list.

1. Sit quietly, do not talk during the performance.

2. If you must leave the theater, wait for intermission. If it is urgent, wait for applause to signal a break allowing you to exit the theater or enter.

3. Arrive on time. It is disrespectful of the performers and other patrons to disrupt the performance by arriving late.

4. Unless you are invited to do so, it is not okay to sing along with live performance or to recite the lines. The person on stage or on the screen has beaten you for the role; allow them the spotlight.

5. Crinkling candy and gum wrappers is one of the most annoying sounds on the planet. Open them before the performance or during a break, if you must!

6. Cell-phones are a necessary device in this day and age, but the sound and light emitted by them are extremely annoying. Silence them if you must leave them on (like if you have a medically fragile child at home -- I really do get it!), but don't sit with the phone on in front of you during the performance. 

7. Be respectful of people around you. The person in front of you can hear you complaining that you cannot see around them. It is not their fault they are 5'10" and slouching down as far as they can. They have made themselves as small as they possibly can and do not need you making them feel even smaller. (Okay, so this is a personal one, since I might be 5'10" and had this happen at the show.)

8. Teach your children by example. Give them culture, please! But, giving them culture isn't just taking them to live theater. It's showing them how to behave by how you behave.

9. And Lastly -- Take a step back and watch yourself sometimes. See what people around you see, especially small impressionable people who are learning by watching what you do. It's always a reality check when something comes out of your child's mouth or you see a behavior in your child and you can automatically recognize it in yourself. 


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Amanda wishes etiquette was taught to every grade and every child because it is that important. 

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