5 Dos & Don’ts When Dining Out with Your Son 

July 11, 2017
By

A privileged, white male mansplains how to raise kind boys


A restaurant dining-room can be a very important classroom—or social-construction-site—for our sons. It provides the intimacy of family within a larger public space, as well as the engagement of “strangers” in the work of service. It also requires making choices (through the menu) that include options influenced by pleasure, health and budget. These are some of the usual life-pieces affected by privilege. When we are blind to our relationship to these life-pieces, we are, in fact, “privileged.”

And it shows.

So here are five simple dos and don’ts informed by research and by common-sense that can be applied to your future dining experiences.

After reading this list, you might say, “My son is too young (or too old) for these rules.” I have given that pushback careful consideration, and I disagree. With the application of some basic reasoning, you can modify and tweak these dos and don’ts to best serve your son at almost any age—in order to reach your deeply-held desire to help him tap into his highest-and-best offerings.


1. Reasonable limits are valuable:

Invite your son to choose what he’d like from the menu, but give him a dollar-amount which he may not exceed. This isn’t necessarily about budget or availability of options. It’s about fostering adaptability and an approach to happiness, nourishment and satisfaction within reasonable limits and confines.

The tragedy of “privilege” is the construction of a young man who has no idea that his hungers and desires are within his control.

Also, you have veto power over his menu choice. He might choose something that simply is not a good idea for him or that you know he won’t like, and as a parent, you have the right AND responsibility to make those calls. Otherwise, you’re just feeding the privileged-beast you claim to despise in adults.


2. Get his blinders off:

One of the many complaints about the privileged male’s behavior is that he doesn’t care about the needs or the space of those immediately around him. He “manspreads” (that is, he spreads his legs wide-open, beyond the width of his own chair), he bumps into people, he cuts others off, he doesn’t share the armrest on an airplane, etc.

Much of this behavior doesn’t really emerge from a bully’s heart. It’s simply a lack of sensitivity and awareness. And when we over-accommodate our sons at dinner, we are nurturing this sense of entitlement. We are not cultivating sensitivity and awareness.

So, draw him into the conversation. Begin to point out what you’re observing in the server’s mood, the fellow-patrons’ body language, and in the needs and feelings of the others around the table—including yourself.


3. Introduce social protocol early:

For example, if the server should ask your son for his order before anyone else at the table, teach him to say something like, “What would you like, Dad/Mom? Maybe you can order first?” As an adult male, he will be presumed—by some—to be guilty of privileged-behavior before he even opens his mouth. But by learning to be proactive with such social-protocol, he creates space for people to get to know him for who he actually is.

It’s not his fault that the server asked him first. Unfortunately, though, as a man he will be judged for the server’s actions if he doesn’t learn how to politely and respectfully redirect the flow of events.

Other pieces of protocol include saying please and thank you, making eye contact with the server, and smiling—ESPECIALLY WHEN HE’S IN A BAD MOOD or doesn’t FEEL like it. Developing access to our highest-and-best is a key component of overcoming the lower-nature tendencies that our privilege loves to indulge.

Privilege says that our moods and feelings trump all other protocol, but this is the most debilitating construct we can offer our men-to-be. If he settles into that paradigm, as an adult he will either be considered a “jerk” or “mentally ill,” but certainly not “kind.”


4. Go deviceless:

This is a big one. And it’s hard. I know that. But if you let him be device-focused at dinner, you’re teaching him that his entertainment is the priority, and that whatever he finds to be fun or compelling should be attended to before (even instead of) the attention of others; that his amusement is paramount. Yes, it’s much easier to just let him bury himself in his device, but then that’s what privilege is: a sort of license-to-chill, to do what’s easier instead of what’s best for others and for one’s community. Don’t teach him that at dinner.

(Research also shows that device-free dinners lead to stronger vocabulary development, healthier relationships with food, and less substance abuse).

EXCEPTIONS: Of course, there can be exceptions to this rule. For example, when you’re working through lunch, while on the road, or when he has nowhere else to be while you’re engaged in a more “grown-up conversation” at the table. But make these exception-times clear to him in advance—and discuss them again after. The point is to instill thoughtfulness and sensitivity, and this is best achieved through communication, and through the setting and maintenance of standards, including logical exceptions.


5. Don’t call it cute:

If it’s not cute behavior in a man, it’s not cute in a boy. Telling him otherwise is just confusing him, and setting him up (and setting his adult partner and friends up) for a life of anxiety and heartache.

Perhaps you have seen this video (below) that went viral three years ago—of a three-year-old exhibiting classic condescension and disrespect to his mother. People praised it on social media (and even on The Ellen Show) as “so funny,” and “adorable.” Take that boy’s very same words, and place them into an adult male’s mouth (which is where I presume he learned them), and it’s outrageous, disrespectful—and unkind behavior. Now, how is this boy supposed to understand at which age he must make the switch?

At dinner, when your son is impolite, pouty, unkind, or disrespectful, he might get something of a pass based on ignorance or age, but he must never get accolades. Do not call it cute.

When we call it cute, we forget that privilege is assigned, constructed and given. But if we don’t assign it, don’t construct it, and don’t give it, neither will he learn to live as if he has it—even when the rest of society behaves as if he does.

One Response to 5 Dos & Don’ts When Dining Out with Your Son 

  1. Suzanne
    July 13, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Oh thanks Dr. D. You are so wise. As you know, I do not have a son, but I dine
    with friends who do and it is seldom a pleasant experience—regardless of the age of the child. Parents do not seem to be parents anymore—they just LET their children do and be whatever they choose—and so often it is rude, selfish and unkind behavior and YES—they often smile and actually call it CUTE. Unbelievable.
    I see it more and more here in Uganda—children not knowing how to be polite or engaging in conversation–regardless of their age. I am going to share this with as many as I can—as I think—they simply do not know nor realize that they have a right and responsibility to train their children in this manner. THANK YOU AGAIN—you always come through with wisdom and grace.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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