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Monday, October 19, 2009

On Kids and Respect: How Do Your Kids Address Adults???

Written by Lee

Recently, I was at a birthday party for a friend's daughter who was turning six. I didn't know many of the other moms at the party so I did what I usually do in that kind of situation. I wandered aimlessly trying to help out at the arts and crafts table, I watched the kids jump in the bouncy house, I consoled my girls when they were body-slammed in the bouncy house, and I did my best to start up a meaningful conversation with a few of the other moms.

As I sat alone in a chair outside watching the kids play, two moms stood near me and started chatting about education. They were talking about the schools their kids attended - one public and one private. One mom was saying how much she loved "progressive" education because that is how she was raised in Los Angeles and she believed in this type of teaching. Since I am always intrigued by different methods of education, I asked -

"I don't know much about progressive education. What is it about that type of learning that you love? What do they do differently?"

And the first thing she said was, "What I love is that the kids call their teachers by their first names. When I was in school, I never even knew the last names of my teachers. I love that."

And I was all, huh?

My kids are in Catholic school so calling teachers by their first names is out. Obviously. And actually when I think about it, I'm very cool with that rule.

So cool, in fact, that back when Claire was in kindergarten (she's in 2nd grade now) a group of us moms that hang out had a chat about what our kids should call us adults. I was a huge advocate of using the last names even though some moms initially favored the first name approach. Although we all are mellow moms who work to have an open line of communication with our kids, in the end, we decided to go with the "Mr. and Mrs. insert last name" route.

I don't know about you but to me it seems we live in a time where the boundaries are as blurry as ever between kid and adult. In our home, I see it manifested on a daily basis when my girls talk to me and my husband in a tone that I consider disrespectful. It's the one thing that gets under my skin like no other. This seeming lack of respect.

Now I know that we have a hand in this. We encourage expression in my home and believe you me, my girls have no lack of it. They are loud and spirited and imaginative and all of that is good. But sometimes I feel like it backfires. In the middle of an argument over something that is usually related to my girls not listening or doing one thing I ask them to do, there will be inevitably a moment when their tone reaches what I consider to be the "backtalk" tone. And then I lose it. And it all spirals quickly from there. Yuck.

So when it comes to my kids addressing other adults, I believe in the last name approach. I guess I hang onto it as on outward sign of respect towards the "elders" in a time when these courtesies are simply harder to find. During visits to other families' homes for playdates etc. I find that more and more parents allow all kind of adult/kid integration in the form of kids running through houses, jumping on furniture, and generally yelling and screaming in the middle of adults trying to converse. Now, I don't need the old-fashioned "Kids need to be seen and not heard" approach obviously but I think we've gone too far in the other direction.

Maybe I'm delusional. Maybe calling other adults by their last names is doing nothing to instill respect. But to be honest, I think I need it. I need my kids to be reminded in this small way that they are not on equal par with adults.

So this answer from the progressive school mom reallly confused me. Calling teachers by their first names. I can't imagine it with my kids. The thought actually makes me shudder. Blurring the lines even further. Am I so old-fashioned? What am I missing here?

Enlighten me.


  1. Wow! I would NEVER send my kid to a progressive school. I believe teachers deserve respect, and one way to do that is to address them as Mrs, Ms. or MR. Whatever it may be. When I read that it made me shudder you are not alone. And I must be oldfashioned too. But I like it, and I am not changing.

  2. This is a debate that has come up often in our parent groups and at my school where I teach. We just keep coming back to the idea that calling someone by a particular title is not about respect...that is just following a rule. Respect comes from a feeling we have about someone...and can be shown in many ways. But those demonstrations of respect come from feelings about the person, not from following some rule where every person is treated exactly the same.

    But I know...this whole Mr and Mrs thing is still very much part of how we grew up and it is hard to change.

  3. Wow! I agree with you Lee, there should be line. To many children are disrespectful. Heck when I worked at the hospital I always called everyone Mr.and Mrs. And I am 29! It was just a respect thing...sure, patients would tell me to call them by their first name. but there is just something about calling a lil ol' lady by her first name that I will never be comfortable with. And in college, it is even harder to call my prof's by their first names (many "request" it) I think when someone is in the education system (or any profession for that matter), they just should have that type of repect. And I was the type of kid that didn't understand why we couldn't call them by their first I understand...there needs to be a line between adults and children. Isn't that how we learn to respect our elders? Thanks for sharing!

  4. Wow.....I cannot even imagine hearing my girls call their teachers by their first names......I don't even call their teachers by their first's about respect! How does a teacher have any authority in the classroom if she is on the same level as the kids??? That just baffles me......but I am from smalltown Mississippi.......and I still say yes mam and yes sir to my parents!

  5. I will never hear my son say anyone's name, since he is mentally disabled and has never uttered a word. But I cannot fathom calling someone by their proper name. Times may be changing, but I still think that respect is something that children should show their elders or any other person in authority. I think of it this way, you would not call a police officer by his/her first name. I treat and talk to people in the manner I would want them to talk to me. Courtesy and kindness go a long way.

  6. There no 'Mr.' or 'Mrs.' in ASL, Graham has always called his teachers by their first name, as that is what is culturally acceptable for him. And since that is Graham's first language, that's what we do. So to my kids, all grownups are first names. I have no idea what I would think if we weren't in the Deaf world.

  7. I like adults in a school setting being called Mr & Mrs!

  8. Ack, I WANT the "kids should be seen and not heard."

    I WANT that.

    I don't have it, but I really WANT it.

    heh heh

    Thank you Mrs. Lee! hee hee

  9. I didn't know teachers had first names! Mine never did when I was growing up and my kids' teachers certainly don't... at least I didn't think they did. You've completely rocked my world here Lee...

  10. I started a post today about my oldest son's smart mouth. Then I erased it because I just couldn't get the words out the way I wanted!

    Anyway, I prefer to be called by my first name with my friends' kids and vice versa with my kids calling my friends by their first name. With that said, I think relationships that don't have that "family friend" component -teachers, parents of their own friends, etc. - should be Mr. and Mrs. until they are asked to call them otherwise, which may be never.

  11. Oh, and about the respect thing, I am right there with Em. I can think of a few people over the years I was forced to call Mr./Mrs. and I had absolutely NO respect for them. We all know respect is earned and it is not earned through a Mr./Mrs. title.

  12. Last year, the mother of one of my 5YO's classmates pulled me aside and told me that, although she wasn't about to tell me how to teach my kids, she was teaching her kids to call grownups by Mr./Mrs. Yes, it was unsolicited, but I respected her for politely giving me her POV, especially since our kids would be spending the next 15 years together in jail...uh I mean Catholic School.

    We generally keep it to Mr./Ms. unless it's a close family friend. At that point, it becomes "aunt/uncle" because they're pretty much extended family and my ex and I both grant these friends the lattitude of applauding or admonishing our kids should we not be immediately available.

    Babysitters are usually Miss First Name and that's about as far as we go.

    Although my 5YO has now discovered that she can get mom and dad's eyebrows raised when she refers to us by our first names in public. It's very cute. Almost too cute to chastize her for it.

  13. to borrow a phrase from our in-house politico, Em, you can respect the OFFICE without necessarily respecting the individual... and so it goes with kids and adults, i think. i believe that kids actually DO need to be taught that sometimes in life, you have to show respect to even those people who don't deserve it. and i think, in general, adults do deserve respect from kids, just because they are adults. and the simplest way to do this is to say Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr.

    and i honestly feel like i am turning into someone's grandma for the second time today.

    i really am starting to wonder about us as a society. does that sound rash and dated? i am feeling like the age of entitlement is getting younger and younger and younger.

  14. I have never heard of "progressive school" not sure what to think. I expect my kids to respect other adults and tell them to call other adults by their last name unless of course the adult tells them otherwise. I just tell my kids' friends to call me by my first name. I don't mind that as long as they are otherwise respectful. I even call my kids teachers by their last name unless they tell me to call them by their first name.

    I have noticed here in Maryland many more people address me as Mrs. (last name) than in Colorado.

    I think you are always safe going the more respectful route and you can tone it down later. You can never be too respectful but you can disrespect people easily if you aren't careful.

  15. Late to the party, sorry, nuts of a day.

    Anywho - we kind of landed in our tradition because of the first parents in our group to have children - it's always Miss Emily or Miss Michelle, Mr. Chris, etc. But that's only for close family friends if it's ok by them. Other adults, grandparents, etc., it's always Mr or Mrs.

    My mother would still smack me in the back of the head to call a elder person by their first name without permission first. Even at 38.

    As far as teachers go, Mr and Mrs, absolutely no exception. I even call the boys' teacher Mrs. so-n-so until they insist that I call them by their first name. And then never in front of the kids.

    I'm with Deb, "respect your elders" is right there next to the Golden Rule in our home. You're going to meet a lot of people in this world whom you might not agree with or like, but damn if you will be disrespectful.

    Now, someone pass me my cane.

  16. I completely see where you are coming from. I think a lot has to do with where you live as well. I actually need to be more consistent with this because I have no problem with my friends kids calling me Miss Mariah but if I don't like a kid, I make them call me Mrs. Humphries. I know. Totally inconsistent! I have worked with youth for 15 years but rarely will I let kids call me just Mariah until I have a good relationship with them in high school. Clear as mud?

  17. I'm with you Lee, I teach my kids to call my best friends "Mr. and Mrs." or even "aunt and uncle" if they are godparents. It's good to practice respect. In the youth group that I run, however, I invite the teens to call me Loren. I have no discpline issues as a result of this choice, and I don't want the atmosphere to feel like school.

  18. A quality school is defined by being able to call the teachers by their first names??

    I don't give a fig about what name the teachers are called. How is the curriculum? What are my kids learning? How often are they writing? What new concepts did they learn today?

  19. I'm with the other old ladies on this one. In MOST instances I like the Mr. and Mrs. plan whether or not it's deserved. That's how I grew up and I just like that small drop of discipline in this sea of entitlement for our children.

    For the most part, any one new who my kids meet are "Mr. and Mrs." I started the close family friends as "Miss (first name)" but from here on out it's Mr. and Mrs.

  20. No kids here (duh). But, when I was growing up, and this is how I plan to raise my kids: we called all teachers by their last names (with the appropriate title in front of it, also making sure not to confuse Mrs. with Ms.). I did not call teachers by their first names until college, when they requested it.

    As for other adults, I was to call everyone Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. whatever. With really close family friends, and with their permission, I could use first names.

  21. I am 46, and still refer to my parents' best friends (who have known me since b4 I was born) and Mr. and Mrs. xxx. When I am in the room with them - I call them by their first names, but I address them respectfully.

    The other day , in my daughter's kindergarten class, one of the little cherub's says "hi [first name]" I was all , huh?

    I have children call me "miss [first name], though - cuz Mrs. [last name] is my mother-in-law. And don't there with the whole ma'am thing.

  22. I STILL call my childhood friends' parents by "Mr. or Mrs." so-in-so (right, Lee?). And I'm 41. I could never imagine calling them by their first names.

    Yes, using a formal greeting is definitely more respectful. Period. I agree, the boundaries have become blurred with our kids.

    While it was strange to hear my kids' friends calling me "Mrs." at first, I've come to expect it now. I'm the Mama...not their friend.

  23. I refer to other parents as Mr. and Mrs.- so my kids learn to respect them and do that- where it goes from there- is up to them. I know I tell kids "just call me Tena"- I hate being called Mrs..., HATE IT- makes me think of my MIL- not good.

    Anyway... teachers-definitely- that progressive thing is a little odd.

    True story- a couple of weeks ago, some grade school friends and I went to see an old teacher we had in 7th grade who plays accoustic in some local coffee houses... I called him 'Mr. Galati' and I always will- even though he insisted it was OK to call him 'Steve'- it just felt wrong.

  24. I think kids should generally call adults by "Mr./Ms. [last name]" unless/until the adult tells them to call them something else. (Actually, I kinda think we should all do this --- I don't really dig it when a cashier hands me my credit card back and says "thanks Pearatty")

    I grew up with calling close family friends of my parents "Auntie/Uncle [first name]", and I like that custom, as well as the Southern custom of "Miss/Mr. [first name]", which draws a line of respect, while recognizing a less formal relationship.

    And as a former teacher, it is just a LOT harder, especially for a young teacher, to control a classroom when the kids call you by first name. I would just never recommend it.

    But if an adult told my kid to "call me [first name]", I would let him do it, since I think the first rule of thumb should be that people are entitled to be called what they want to be called.

  25. My children go to a school where lack of respect is rewarded. They call the teachers whatever they want...even stupid and ugly is OK...and they are fine with that, because after all, they are just kids learning their way in the world. I think you are out of your mind to suggest that kids call adults Mr and Mrs. I think the ones who are forced to this abuse, end up smoking the pot and living on the streets. Girls become hookers too. I have read studies that back this up.

    (glad you posted this! I agree 100% with you, but you know that already!!!)

  26. Yup, I prefer Mr. or Mrs.

    It really is a subtle way of showing that there's a difference. Kids need all the little reminders they can get that they aren't in charge.

    well said, lady.

  27. Ok, I'll be the minority - not the first time - My kids call adults by their first name.

    Frankly at school, which is progressive (which typically means child-interest driven, for example my eldest is really into maps, so they provide lots of exercises on making maps, geography and add in culture) all the teachers introduce themselves to the kids by first name. All my kids friends call me either by my first name or as "my child's name"'s Mom.

    And in an emergency they will grab my had say "mom" in the general title of the word, not the possessive and take me to the skinned knee that needs attention.

    My boys understand the difference between adults and kids. They are respectful. They are loving. They are in an environment where first names are the norm.

    But, I let the adult choose. And we follow their wish. I have no problem with using a title. It just is not their norm.

  28. I'm with Angela - let the adults in their life choose. Most in our circles choose first-name. Personally, I don't like being called "Mrs." When I hear it, I look around for my mother-in-law. ;)

    In preschool the teachers preferred first name, in elementary it's Ms. Lastname. I don't think my boys perceive a difference in title-respect, they just see it as different types of names.

    Even my 70 year old neighbor prefers the boys call her by her first name. I always ask with new adults, but for parents of friends or friends of parents we opt for first name basis.

  29. I think some of your thoughts fall under the what goes around comes around or you get what you give.

    The 'progressive''ve got to be kidding. I don't think I know the first names of most of my children's teachers. haha.

    I have to say though that I don't mind if kids call me by my first name; you can usually tell whether they are being respectful either way. I don't take any crap from kids, no matter what they call me.

    I had to laugh when I read about your's universal. My universe anyway.

  30. As much as hearing people call me by what I had always thought of as my mother-in-law's name, I cringe every time a child calls me by my first name. "Mrs. D" is just fine with me :)

  31. Found this by accident, but I am an elementary school teacher in the south. At the elementary school level, it is definitely last name! At my own child's preschool/daycare it is Miss First Name and Mr. Larry (director's husband who is around a lot because it is a family owned business).

    With my own child and our friends and his friends' parents, it is Miss First Name or Mr. First Name. This is a very southern thing; it is just the way it is around here. Throwing the Miss or Mr. in front of the first name is a way to show respect as is the m'ams and sirs!

    Respect in general seems to be going down the tubes in this society!


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