Everyday Etiquette: Respecting Our Anthem and Flag
By Diane Gottsman


Every Day Etiquette Archives by Diane Gottsman I was at a sports game recently and noticed a mother and her two daughters, during the national anthem, giggling, talking among themselves and, most disturbing, one of the teens answered a ringing cell phone and carried on a conversation, all before the song was complete. It occurred to me that a refresher in showing respect would be appropriate as we celebrate Independence Day.
Our official anthem is called "The Star Spangled Banner." A child can show respect for the song by standing up tall, placing the palm of the right hand over the heart, singing or remaining silent, and focusing his or her attention on the American flag. Boys and men should remove their hats or ball caps. Never take a call or eat or drink during the anthem.

Talk to your child about the significance of the ceremony.
  • In a school environment, if the anthem or pledge is taking place, teach your child to stop and face the flag until the ceremony is finished.
  • If, at a sporting event or other function, an international anthem is played, as an expression of respect to foreign guests, stand, and follow the same guidelines. It is inappropriate to pledge allegiance to another flag.
  • Teach your child the proper care and respect of the American flag. There are very specific guidelines of flag etiquette. Among them:
  • A flag may fly through the night only if it is illuminated. The saying is "the sun must never set on Old Glory."
  • An outdoor American flag is raised at dawn and lowered at dusk. One of several exceptions would be on Memorial Day, when the flag is flown at half-mast until noon and full mast the rest of the day until dusk.
  • Never display a torn or tattered American flag.

  • Although many people like to wear the flag on their ball cap or T-shirt, or use napkins with the flag Our official anthem is called imprinted on the paper to show support and respect, it is actually considered inappropriate unless it is an officially sanctioned organization such as the Red Cross, Scouts, police, firemen and other public safety officials. This is one of those rules that most people break unintentionally because they feel they are showing respect and support for our troops. Make your own decision when following this rule.
  • Never allow the flag to touch the ground.
  • Children should be taught that the American flag should be taken seriously and treated with respect. Explain the different meanings such as when the flag is raised to the top of the flagpole and then lowered and flown at half-mast, it signifies mourning. When the flag is flown upside down, it signifies an emergency. These are the only two reasons a flag will be flown at half-mast or upside down.
Diane Gottsman is a nationally recognized etiquette and protocol expert who leads programs for children and adults. To read her previous columns, visit the Everyday Etiquette Archives.