DEAR MISS MANNERS: My son is 12 years old, and in most cases, very polite. He greets people with a handshake, introduces himself and makes conversation with them (although his conversation veers heavily towards video games). When they leave, he tells them it was nice to meet them.
On the other hand, whenever I have adults over, or I go out with a friend and he comes along (the latter doesn't happen often, for reasons which will become apparent), he has a tendency to dominate the conversation. He views any group of people as an audience. He even interrupts me when I am talking, though he generally doesn't do it to other people. Well, he does interrupt them, but if it's someone else he says "excuse me" first.
And I'm not just talking about him engaging in the conversation, either. I'm talking about a child who would cheerfully talk for two hours solid about whatever topic he was interested in, and not let anyone else get a word in edgewise, and never run out of breath or things to say. My friends seem to enjoy him, up to a point, but they didn't come over, or go out with me, in order to hear my son declaim for hours about "Kingdom Hearts."
I have responded to the interruptions by first warning him and then by sending him to his room (when at home) or admonishing him when not at home, however, I don't like to do that in front of others because I think it's not respectful of them, or him.
I'm a single mother, so I don't have a parental tag team partner to take up the slack. I have tried the Look you recommend, the one that says, "Just wait 'til I get you home." Unfortunately, my son is very good at pretending he doesn't see it. He also appears to think that being the center of attention is worth whatever punishment I mete out later.
I've also put him in children's theater, on the grounds that there, he is supposed to grab the spotlight. He has done very well at it, but he still tries to monopolize the conversation at home or when we are out.
What do you suggest? Is there something more subtle than just admonishing him straight out (which apparently embarrasses me far more than it does him) but that he can't conveniently ignore?
GENTLE READER: Congratulations on having a son who is articulate and observes the polite forms. Now you must get on with the essential lesson of child-rearing: the counterintuitive realization that there are other people in the world and that one must take their feelings into account.
The first such lesson is shortly after birth, when the infant makes the astonishing discovery that others who have been at his beck and call are less and less willing to get up in the middle of the night. It continues with those endless parental critiques beginning, "How you would feel if...."
The lesson your son needs is that other people like to talk, just as he does, and they grow bored if not given the chance. A certain amount of leeway is made for bright children, but he has exceeded and outgrown that.
If he expects to be admired -- or even tolerated -- he has to learn the skill of being charming. Teach him what kind of questions draw people out, and challenge him to discover interests that you didn't know your friends had.
This will serve him all this life -- and bring immediate relief to your friends.