A bad attitude is like a smelly shoe nobody wants it to have it shoved in their face. This is what educator Shawnette Somner tries to teach young girls in etiquette classes she has been running since 2002.
A study on behavioural issues of young males in the community was recently conducted by Columbia University professor Monique Jethwani-Keyser.
It suggested that further examination of Bermuda girls was needed Ms Somner said she didn’t believe the Island needed to hire another expert to state what was in front of everyone’s eyes.
“Over the years I have definitely seen a decline in the behaviour in females,” she said. “At Cup Match and at Beachfest and I was appalled at the behaviour of young girls. I am talking early teens 12, 13 and 14 years old.
“I witnessed with my own eyes young girls drinking bottled liquor. There were a lot of unsupervised kids. Maybe their parents were on the beach but they sure weren’t with them.
“A lot of them were dressed in very skimpy swimsuits. I was observing young boys grabbing at the girls. The girls were just giggling. Foul language was flowing.”
Ms Somner tries to teach young women between the ages of eight and 16 self-respect and self-confidence. Her next set of etiquette classes are to begin in September, and will run for two months.
She has been running a home school called Star Academy for the last eight years and she is also organising a general summer camp for boys and girls at the end of August.
She has two sons of her own and three nieces. She said that while people have often asked her to run etiquette classes for boys, she has refused.
“I would by happy to help a man who wants to do something like that for boys,” she said. “But I believe the boys need a man to teach them things like that and the girls need a woman.
“When I do the etiquette I focus on three key areas self-esteem, self-presentation and selflessness.”
Various studies have found a direct correlation between teenagers’ self-esteem and behaviour.
Teens with high self-esteem are less likely to engage in risky behaviour such as unprotected sex, use illegal substances, or suffer from depression.
“With self-esteem we encourage the girls to engage in various activities that help them appreciate themselves and feel better about themselves,” said Ms Somner. “We talk about self-presentation.
“We encourage them to always be aware of what they look like and how they are presenting themselves to other people. Selflessness is about doing for others without expecting anything in return, especially at home.”
Girls in her classes are grouped according to age.
She discusses “touchy” subjects, such as sexually transmitted diseases, with the older girls. Nurse Gaynelle Hayward, who is coordinator of the Sexual Assault Response Unit at King Edward VII Memorial, helps her with this.
Ms Somner has probably taught etiquette classes to over 200 girls. She said they have varied a great deal in behaviour from quiet and shy, to loud and obnoxious and all the degrees in between.
“A concern parents have is that they are seeing their daughters go through a transition in attitude,” she said. “There are activities and discussions pertaining specifically to that. I compare a bad attitude to a smelly shoe.
“From that they learn nobody wants it, nobody deserves it and no one should have to put up with it.”
Ms Somner makes her girls recite a creed: ‘I am a young lady and I am expected to carry myself as such at all times.’
She was particularly proud that one of the graduates from her etiquette programme, Shaunte Simons, was crowned Miss Teen Bermuda on Sunday.
Ms Somner has actually taught etiquette to the girls involved in the pageant for the last five years, helping them with their stage presence and their speech.
This year she was unable to help out as she was abroad, but she did get a chance to meet and talk with the contestants when she returned home.
She credits the women in her own family with teaching her how to behave her great grandmother, Eunice Wilkinson, grandmother, Pearl Joyiens and mother, Olney Bean.
“Bermudians use the term ‘pert’,” said Ms Somner. “My great grandmother was very pert. There was not a hair or strand or thread out of place with her.
“That was my first teacher. I grew up on Dudley Hill in Paget. At the foot of the hill Marlene B Landy had a charm school. I attended the charm school when her daughter Kim took it over. It was something that always fascinated me.”
It’s Ms Somner’s opinion that this generation of young parents are sometimes too permissive with their children.
“They have this attitude ‘this is just what young people do’,” said Ms Somner. “Just because that is the case it doesn’t make it right. Young people are being exposed to so much.
“Through today’s high-tech world, where young people are carrying around BlackBerrys, they are open to seeing pornography and things children should not be exposed to.”
Many of the girls are often hesitant when their parents first suggest they go to etiquette classes, she said.
“Parents will ask their daughters, ‘Do you want to go to etiquette class?’ Ninety percent of the time the girls say ‘no’.
“The number one reason why they don’t want to come is because it is a ‘girl thing’. They are afraid they won’t know anyone. The girls who do come develop a lot of friendships.
“We do a component where we talk about how girls destroy other girls’ self-esteem. Girls can be very vicious with each other. Talk about shredding a girls self-esteem usually, it is other girls who do it.”
Ms Somner has two sons. Ryan, 24, is a senior in college; Seth is 13. She also has three nieces, Sydney Pringle, 20, a graduate of her etiquette programme, Nhoaa Powell, eight, who will start etiquette classes soon and Milahn Powell, five, who will start when she is old enough.
Ms Somner’s etiquette classes begin September 17 and will be held Saturdays at Christ Church in Warwick. The cost is $30 per class. A summer fun camp for boys and girls will run August 15 to 26 for ages five to 13. The price is $125 per week.
For more information telephone 295-1962 or e-mail ss911[AT]myhome.bm .