I occasionally teach children’s etiquette classes and I always introduce myself as Ms. Clise to the children. When I ask the kids in my class how they address their teachers and their parents’ friends the majority of them say they call these adults by their first names. I’m continually shocked by this.
When I was growing up I wouldn’t dream of calling adults by their first name. It just wouldn’t feel right. It would be too informal. My friends and I would jokingly refer to our parents by their first names to each other, but never when speaking to each others’ parents.
In my most recent children’s class there was a parent who participated in the session. The children knew her and all called her by her first name – Susie. It sounded very odd and made me uncomfortable. As I drove home after the class I thought about why this bothered me so much.
When we address others by a title and their last name it is a sign of respect, whether you’re eight or sixty-eight. It communicates a formality as well. When children address adults by their first name it makes the adult more of a peer to the child. It lacks the deference a child should show to an adult. I think this contributes to disrespect and insolence towards adults.
Children seem to get away with murder these days. Behavior that never would have been tolerated even 20 years ago is now regularly accepted – like talking back to an adult, refusing to follow instruction, calling adults names, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an uptight person. I don’t want to return to the restrictive and formal days of past, but I think we are doing our children a disservice by allowing them to call us by our first names. Asking children to address us by our last names conveys our expectation of respect, and that is good for both of us.
What do you think? If you’re a parent do you allow children to call you or other adults by their first name? If so, why? Do you think there is a connection between less formality and more disrespect?