Monday, March 18, 2013

About Titles and Respect

For the record, I don't think we're good parents and others are bad just because we teach our kids to call adults by their first names. Some people introduce themselves to the kids as Mr. / Ms. / Mrs., and the kids follow their leads and use titles when addressing them. Most people around here, though, use their first names when they meet the kids, and that's how they learn to call them.

As someone who didn't grow up using titles, I find it odd when people do use them, but I also know it's a cultural thing. If you grow up believing it's important that kids address adults with their titles, I respect that.

My kids' teachers use titles, and my neighbor calls herself Ms., so that's what my kids call them. And since part of our job as parents is to teach our kids to respect others, we definitely don't stop our kids from using titles.

My problem comes with people who think kids who don't use titles are disrespectful. I found this issue discussed on a forum, and while I know it's a cultural issue, I just can't accept that premise. Here are some of the comments:

I now have 1 friend who likes to have the kids call her by her first name and nothing else. I have heard it helps her feel like she is not getting older.

I'm always happy to accept other parents' decisions. My way is the right way for me, and that's all it is. But how can someone talk about respect, while using this as an excuse to slam his "1 friend," saying she likes people to refer to her by her first name because it helps her feel younger. That's absurd and ironically disrespectful.

you can tell which families are the class acts by how their kids address adults.

I've had to correct my kids when someone says "Oh, just call me Firstname" I don't care if they want to be called by their first name, at the very VERY least, it's Mr/Mrs Firstname.

So this is how you teach respect for adults? By ignoring their wishes and forcing your own ideas of respect on them? After one member says he only uses his first name around kids, another person tells him that no matter what, if his kids ever meet him, they will call him "Mr. [Lastname]."

Which makes me think it's not about respect. Using titles might have something to do with tradition and with local cultures, but it has nothing to do with respect. I've been wrong before (probably), and if anyone disagrees with me, I'd love to hear another view.



4/12/13 Update: This post has now been republished on Mamapedia: First-Name Basis.


30 comments:

  1. I feel the same way, and I think you're right about the respect issue, with more respect shown by calling them how they'd like than by forcing a formal title.


    I pretty much default to first names, unless someone has made another preference for themselves clear. Sometimes I have found myself doing the Mr/Ms First Name thing, but it feels odd (maybe it will be less so when my kids are in school).

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  2. I teach my kids to say "Mr/Mrs. Last Name" and if the adult in question says "Call me First Name" then I let my kids do that. We have a very good family friend that I don't think the kids have every called "Mr. Packard" but always his first name.

    It is a title, like referring to a judge as "Your honor" or something. Using first names creates a familiarity or a peer relationship.

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  3. Jill/Twipply Skwood HerzbergMarch 18, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    I grew up calling my parents' friends by their first names. I don't know that it was a respect thing (although I totally agree with it having to do with the relationship you're setting up). It was more like, my dad grew up calling his mom and dad's friends "Aunt" or "Uncle" such and such, while in my mom's family you only call by the correct family relationships. But having been around the Ms./Mr. thing this long, it would definitely feel disrespectful to me for my kids to call an adult by their first name without a reason or would have when they were little. And yet, we do have friends that they've called by first name all their life.

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  4. It was a mixed bag for me as a youngster, depending on the level of familiarity of the adult. The true test was in how I or we (my friends, classmates, etc.) treated those
    adults. Respect was either given or not, despite what we called them. That came
    from the parents in my opinion. My mother taught us 4 boys VERY well the acts
    of courtesy, respect, gentlemanly kindness, etc. That was learned and practices
    regardless of the salutation. Though, every aspect of that was taught to us by
    our parent as well. See a pattern here?

    Jason
    The Cheeky Daddy

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  5. We leave it up to the person in question. While I am comfortable with my kids addressing my friends by their first names, and don't care if their kids call me by my first name, other people have different levels of comfort. For the record, I hate it when my kids teachers call me Mrs. Wall. For kids to do it is weird.

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  6. We use Mr/Mrs then first name. I still use this even while I'm 33.

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  7. We too use the Mr./Mrs. first name

    and yes I still do it as well and I am 54. My children (25& 32) as well still do it as well as yes mam yes sir, etc..

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  8. While I agree with you that kids calling adults by their first names is not disrespectful and if that is what the adult wishes, we personally don't believe in the "Mr. Chris:" as a proper way to address someone. I grew up knowing all of the adults' last names in my neighborhood and while I knew their first names, even now if I see them I still call them Mr.or Mrs. Last Name. Now as an adult, if they told me to call them by their first name I would try but it would be an adjustment. I think you are right, it depends on how you are raised and how your parents and other adults perceive titles. As a former teacher, I would cringe when a student tried to call me by my first name. I would literally say "People who call me Chris are my friends. You are my student and not my friend and will call me Mr. Bernholdt." I wonder how your kids address their teachers at school? Do they still address them as Ms.First Name? I was part of a weekend retreat called Snowball as a HS teacher. On the weekend, and only this weekend, the kids were allowed to call me by my first name. It was one of the perks of attending. Funny thing though...even if they could call me by my first name they felt weird saying it. Maybe that was for the best but I went easier on them if they had a hard time and said, you can just call me Mr. B.

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  9. I'm basically with you, Oren, though as my daughter grows older, it's possible I'll alter my opinions. As a kid I went to several different highschools, and at one we called even the head of the school by his first name. At the other, only Mr./Mrs. would have been appropriate. Neither one was a very big deal, but I DO think I ended up feeling that the teachers I called by a first name seemed more like peers; the Mr./Mrs., as Chris alludes to below, is necessarily a barrier, one that signifies authority and distance. Teachers who I called by a first name seemed more to be participating in an exploratory process of learning; teachers for whom I used the honorific felt more didactic, more authoritative. I can see a place for the latter, but I much prefer the former. I prefer to feel more like a team than instructor/instructed. Probably has something to do with my ego.

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  10. I remember when I was a kid, there was a definite difference with how I greeted my parents' Filipino friends and how I greeted everyone else. Filipino friends were almost always Auntie/Uncle something while everyone else was a Mr./Mrs./Ms. The first time my Italian-American best friend's mom met me, it was "Oh just call me 'First Name'" and I had a HARD time complying!

    Even so, I say it IS a matter of respect but who its reflective of is subjective. For example, I hate being called "Mrs." but if a child who I know has been trained to greet adults as "Mr/Mrs/Ms", I wouldn't force them to use my first name. At the same time, I don't think that a child using the first name of an adult is necessarily disrespectful, so long as that's what the child has been raised to expect.

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  11. I was not raised to use titles either. Only with teachers or other professionals I might interact with (like in church). Titles are very prevalent down south and when it is the norm, I find it very nice to be call Ms. Autumn. It is adorable to see the children acting so polite. But it isn't the norm in the north east of the US any longer in any of the places I have lived and doesnt' come naturally to me to teach my children titles. So, we just don't use them!

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  12. The first name is default for me too, but I think in general I'll call anyone the way they want to be called and teach my kids to do the same. My boy's teacher calls me "Mr. Lastname," and I haven't corrected her, because life is too short, but then someone else asked her to call him by his first name, and now I don't know if I'm being an ass for letting her call me Mr. Lastname...

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  13. See, but I'm not sure it does create familiarity... You have more experience at that, but I wonder if you think there is peer relationship with "Mr. Packard." Maybe the kids act more like themselves around him, but is there any sign they disrespect him (or think of him as anything other than "a friendly grown up") because they use his first name?

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  14. Ha, I guess if you're born into a culture that values titles and sees titles as a sign of respect, then a kid using first names is a sign of disrespect. But I just want to convince these people it's not true... I don't think I can do that, though. See, I know that for these people it is true, but I also feel that to these people, if my kids are sitting quietly in a restaurant with napkins on their laps, and they call adults by their first names, they will still be seen as kids from bad homes, while a kid can open all sugar bags and throw the content on everyone at the table, and he will be seen as a respectful kid as long as he calls me Mr. Lastname.

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  15. See, that's what I think. A few years ago, I had a 4-year-old neighbor who always called me Mr., and always made mean faces at me and pulled her tongue out immediately after calling me Mr. -- And I still feel that the people who put so much value in salutations would have heard the Mr. while ignoring the tongue.

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  16. It's weird for me when Mrs. is still the default title for women, you know? I know that may also be a cultural thing, but I think we should really move beyond that already. (Not to mention the heartburn I get every time I'm in a wedding and hear "Mr. and Mrs. Groom's Fullname!")

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  17. Maybe the "Yes mam/sir" is a little different. I think maybe it has more to do with respect rather than with not seeing adults as peers. I imagine people who use "Yes mam/sir" still do that with younger people, since it just becomes a way of speaking to others.

    The Mr./Ms./Mrs. from kids to adults, on the other hand, seems to be a way to separate groups (judging by some of the comments here), and I'm just not sure that by itself does anything. With my kids, I can't see a first name making any difference--adults stay adults no matter what, and they're respected no matter what. But I also know that my oldest is 5, and I know nothing about having older kids.

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  18. Ha, my kids are in preschool, and use Ms. Firstname, which makes it weird for me to call the teachers by their first names... In Israel, we called our teachers by their first names, though, and there was never an issue of respect. You respect your elders and you respect your teachers (well, we didn't respect ALL of our teachers in high school, but I don't think a title would have helped there...)

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  19. I only used first names with my teachers, so I can't tell the difference, but you might be right. Maybe high school kids would be more eager to learn if they felt a teacher were "on their side," and a title stands in the way of feeling like that? The teacher becomes a part of a distant system comprised of superiors, so a kid continues using a title, but he also rebels against that system by not trying to study?

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  20. Yeah, it's like, "I don't mind if my kid gives you the finger, as long as they're calling you Mr. F$#%er"
    Reminds me of Ferris Bheuller's Day Off, when Cameron is on the phone with Rooney,..."Call me SIR goddamitt!"


    Jason
    The Cheeky Daddy

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  21. See, that's what I think. I personally wouldn't correct a kid calling me Mr., because that would mean I disagree with the way his parents raise him, but I do think that the people I quote in the post, who would make their kids address adults with Mr. even when the adults prefer to be called by their first names, actually teach their kids to disrespect adults.

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  22. Hey, I can get used to being called Mr., and you're right, it is cute. I just don't think I'll ever consider that a sign of respect, you know? I think there are many better ways for kids to show respect, and they all have to do with the way they act rather than the titles they use.

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  23. Jill/Twipply Skwood HerzbergMarch 20, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    Yeah. I think ultimately our kids will end up moving through life experiencing many different expectations of all types and far be it from us to dictate that everyone on the planet will feel respect if they address them one way or another. Maybe it's important as they grow up to learn how to figure out for themselves whether the person they're addressing feels respected or not. Even adults flounder around sometimes with the "Do you prefer I call you Robert or Bobby?" (or Mr. Lastname or whatever). :-)

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  24. Jill/Twipply Skwood HerzbergMarch 20, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    I think maybe not disrespect but it definitely sets the stage for a different type of relationship. It's kind of like, I'd love to call my mother in law "Mom" because that's the old fashioned thing to do and her being 91, she'd probably like that. But I just can't seem to do it and she's never asked. And I think it would change the relationship gradually if not right away. So no it's not a respect/disrespect thing in this instance but a distance/closeness thing.

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  25. Jill/Twipply Skwood HerzbergMarch 20, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    Ugh, I hate the teacher one! I always call my kids' teachers by last name, probably because I always hear the kids saying "Mr. Suchandsuch" and "Mrs. Soandso". But then they sign emails with just a first name so I feel like I should use first name for that and also someone told me I was being weird to call them "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Ms." I'm older than quite a few of them by this point too! :-)

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  26. Ha, they do use their first names on letters, you're right! What are we supposed to do?!

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  27. I have a strange attitude towards titles. In Ireland titles aren't used a lot outside of religion or schools. Generally doctors or people with professional pre-nominals wouldn't use them outside of their working environment.

    My mother worked in retail for many years and she was always jarred by the people who while complaining would would say something like "It's actually Doctor Smith, you know!" She was always tempted to respond with "Oh well done, but that has nothing to do with this". She always taught me that titles should not be regarded as an indicator of status or personal quality. In other words some people will use titles to make themselves seem more important in certain situations. It was an extreme view that I partially share due to my experiences at school where the teachers that preferred to be called Mr/Mrs or allowed us to use their first names always seemed to be better teachers than those who insisted on being called just Sir or Miss.

    My attitude is that my children should use the titles that people prefer. If someone wants to be called Mister, Missus, Doctor or whatever - you should respect that as it is the nice thing to do. But I would remind them as they get older that such titles do not entitle the person to an enhanced level of deference unless it deserved.

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  28. I know what you mean, since where I grew up people didn't use titles. My initial feeling was that people who liked to be addressed with titles were people with superiority issues, but when I thought about it more, I saw it more as a cultural difference (between countries, between rural areas and cities, between red states and blue states...), so I accept it as just another thing I don't get about a culture I'm not a part of. What I can't accept is people who'd look down at my parenting (and at my kids) just because we don't play these games.

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  29. I pretty much do the same with my kids. The only titles I REQUIRE: I want us to be called Daddy and Mama! I will accept Dad and Mom when they get older. Definitely do not want to be called by my name. When we first got our kids through adoption, they went by our names, which we were fine with. We did a transition phase where I was to be called Captain Daddypants, Sir! and my wife was Mama Pajamas. Eventually they naturally transitioned to Daddy and Mama. Gee, I wonder why?

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  30. Oh, I don't think I could ever handle the kids using my name... And I know I always have that in my arsenal if my dad will ever really make me angry. Real name is the atomic bomb of parent-child relationship.

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