At New York City’s most competitive Firm Schools, tiny five-year-olds are put through rigorous admissions interviews. The schools contend that a child who can share with playmates, take turns with friends, and use an adult’s “magic” words like “please” and “thank you” during an admissions interview is more likely to succeed later in life. What is astounding, however, is that these same schools years later will send these now barely adult graduates to renowned colleges and universities without the social skills they will sorely need, skills that are easily taught and profitably put to use. These are lessons in manners, etiquette and social diplomacy that will set youngsters apart as they head off to their first job interviews –particularly in today’s grim job market.
As an adjunct professor of communications at New York University, I teach a class to college students entitled, ‘The Brand Called You.” Topics include the overuse of words like, um , y’ know and, yes like,; greetings and introductions; appropriate attire for business and non-business encounters in life; body language; managing reputation when using social media; respect for yourself and others; technology etiquette and, most of all, the importance of taking pride in what you do.
The class ends with each student giving a 30 second “elevator speech,” or an overview of an idea for a product, service, or project. The name reflects the fact that an elevator pitch should be possible to deliver in the time span of an elevator ride, meaning in a maximum of 30 seconds and in 130 words or fewer.
This valuable lesson led me to see how empowering it might be for even younger students to learn these principles and I quickly realized that social skills should be taught much earlier in life. To that end, last year I began volunteering social-skills classes to students from New York public schools, such as PS 140, AGL and Booker T. Washington, in addition to organizations including the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Girl Scouts of America.
Rather than manners and etiquette classes featuring white gloves and pinkies held up at high tea, I teach the same basic manners and etiquette workshops for the real world that I teach to college students at NYU, with a few changes. For example, I teach greetings and introductions, the art of conversation and reputation management online to both groups, but during children’s programs we focus more on the basics like eye contact, positive behavior and addressing adults. What is clear, though, is that youngsters as young as age 4 not only open up socially, but gain confidence and self-esteem with these tools.
Dr. Barbara Howard, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an expert on behavior and development, once said that, “Social skills are necessary for school success; they affect how you do on the playground, in the classroom, in the workplace.” As an instructor both at the university level and at socialsklz:-) manners for the modern world, I see firsthand that some of the finest lessons that parents and guardians can teach their children are good manners, etiquette and a solid set of social skills. We can fill up any child’s schedule with activities and programs, but they must be able to apply those skills in a social setting.
The earlier we begin instilling these lessons, the more empowered and self-confident our children will be and, ultimately, the more peaceful our world will be.
About the Contributor: Faye Rogaski, founder of socialsklz:-) tools to thrive in the modern world, is a regular contributor to the NYC Firm Schools Blog in the area of modern day social skills for children, tweens and teens.