Q: My best friend’s almost 13 year old son gets home from school or play and changes into a pair of boxer shorts – nothing else – no pants, no shirt. He walks all around the house this way, sits on the furniture and talks with us this way, and even eats at the dinner table with us this way (shirtless). He has friends over to play while he is dressed like this (only boxer shorts). I was brought up that it is bad etiquette not to wear a shirt – certainly while eating – and especially when around other people.
My best friend and I would like to have her son learn good manners, so our question is: Is it bad etiquette? Or, are the ‘old’ rules of etiquette now considered archaic? And, when – if ever – is it okay for a teenage boy to walk around in underwear, including sitting on furniture and eating at the table?
A: Maybe some old rules of etiquette are considered archaic, but not the ones that say people should come to the table fully dressed. The formality of dress may change depending on the dining event, but even at the most informal dinner at home men and boys should wear a shirt and pants or regular shorts over their underwear. A 12 year old daughter would certainly not come to the table in her bra and panties. We expect no less from our boys.
You mention that your friend would like to have her son learn good manners. She can begin by setting some limits in her own home. As her son is now approaching puberty she can broach the subject in terms of his impending manhood and say that this is the expectation of everyone in the family. If there are younger children in the house she should also require them to come to dinner fully clothed.
The same really holds true for the common areas of the house. If he wants to relax in his own bedroom in his underwear, that should be his choice. But when he is in the commonly used rooms, he should dress at least in a shirt and shorts or pants. Again she could point out that she doesn’t wander through the house in her underwear – nor does his father. (If his father does, that’s another story and she should be sure he is willing to set the right example.)
And finally, I would suggest that she refer to his boxers as underwear. He may think “boxers” are okay, but will respond to the notion that he really shouldn’t walk around in his underwear.