Teaching children to use courtesy titles like “Mr.” and “Ma’am” is a small but important step we can take to encourage civility in daily life.
When my daughter Liz was in junior-high, I picked her up at school after an out-of-town volleyball game. “Who drove to the game?” I asked as she buckled in.
“Oh, Sheila gave me a ride” she said.
“Sheila?” I asked, wracking my brain to think of a classmate by that name. It momentarily escaped me that very few 6th graders were likely to have their driver’s license.
“That’s Kayla’s mom.” Liz answered.
“Sheila!” I exclaimed. “What do you mean, referring to Mrs. Becker that way? I will not have you being disrespectful, young lady!”
“But mom” she protested, “That’s what she told us to call her!”
Trust But Verify being a good policy when dealing with either the Soviet Union or preteens, I checked my sources. Sure enough. A certain group of moms were now insisting the kids call them by their first names. The “cool” moms.
You know these women. They have been pushing the envelope since preschool.
They’ll do anything to establish their daughters (they are always moms of girls) at the top of the school social ladder. They were the ones who ratcheted the birthday party competition up to DEFCON 2. No longer could you have cake and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey at home. Unless you want your kid to be totally disgraced, you’ve got to sponsor a birthday spa day, with mani/pedis and $25 gift bags. Some of these parties cost more than my wedding!
Now that the kids had reached the lofty heights of junior high, the “cool” moms thought it was time to be friends, instead of authority figures
I’m sorry, but I am not comfortable with 11 year-olds calling me by my first name. We are neither peers, nor buddies. It’s hard enough to parent preteens. We need that little extra distance to help maintain discipline.
With very young children, first names are just easier to handle. Once they get to school, however, titles can and should be used. Children should be taught respect for their elders, and reminded of it often. I love how they use “ma’am” and “sir” in the military and down south. This is one custom I would import north of the Mason/Dixon line in a heartbeat. If they use first names for adults, they attach a title. “Miss Sue” still sounds respectful.
I wouldn’t dream of referring to my parents’ friends, teachers, and elderly adults by their first names. That holds true even today, and I’m over 50. Their years have earned them my respect and deference.
As parents we should lead by example. Let’s start with our elected leaders. Even if we don’t like or agree with a politician, we should show respect for their position. If kids hear us using proper titles: “President Obama” and “Governor Palin”, rather than the insulting adjectives we may attach to their names in our minds, it would go a long way to helping them learn respect for age and authority.