Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Parents Need to Know About Children's Prying Eyes

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a high school teacher who has a ninth-grader in one of my classes who has never been taught social graces. One of the most egregious things she does is chew with her mouth open -- it's horrible. She also grabs food others are reaching for (she's not thin, so she's not starving), spreads her class material out so that it encroaches on other students' areas, etc.

Conversely, she is happy and eager to learn, and she has great, great potential. Her lack of social skills will ultimately hold her back.

I don't know what to do! I nag her constantly about her horrible diet (she lives on fast food, won't touch a vegetable), her erratic sleep schedule, and the fact that she's late daily for school. I'm afraid if I start on her social skills, it will just be too much. I've thought of sending her to a "finishing school," but I don't think they exist. Plus she doesn't need to be "finished" since she hasn't even started. I would be willing to pay for her to go to some kind of class -- I really believe in this student's future.

GENTLE READER: Although she must often remind people that it is rude to correct another person's manners, Miss Manners observes that the ban does not apply to parents and teachers. (At least not when acting in their official capacity: Being Olivia's mom does not give you jurisdiction over Zoe.)

As parents do less and less parenting, schools have been forced to take over. This is not ideal, but it may be necessary: Your school administration and fellow teachers may be willing, if not eager, to support or sponsor some mini-lessons on basic etiquette that you rightly link with the future success of your pupils.