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Kids can use adults’ first names and still respect their elders

I’m a big believer in keeping manners alive — if the “excuse me’s” and “thank you’s” dry up, then we’re basically doomed as a civilization, just one step away from toileting in the woods and eating grubs. My daughter knows her manners well, since I began indoctrinating her into the cult of refined etiquette as soon as she could talk. The sole exception? She calls adults by their first names.

It wasn’t really a conscious decision, to be honest. The first few years of her life were rather insulated, and every adult had a clear title: “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “Dr. Pediatrician,” “Nana,” “Uncle James.” It wasn’t until she made her very first friend that the issue arose; this particular friend’s culture designated friends of family as “Auntie” or “Uncle,” so I became “Theresa Auntie” to my daughter’s friend, and the kid’s mother became “Meena Auntie” to my own child.

After that, I had to actively discourage my child from Auntie-ing or Uncle-ing every stranger on the street. A compromise was born: She began calling adults by Mr. or Miss First Name. In time, I noticed every other kid I knew was doing that too, and I thought nothing more about it.

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Until now. One blogger wants to know why kids these days are rude little gremlins, but not really, because she already has her answer: It’s because parents (that she totally doesn’t judge, no worries) are sloppy, rude wrong-monsters who allow their spawn to address other adults informally. That is, by their first names. Oh, my stars and garters!

Pearls clutched firmly, nearly succumbing to vapors, she woefully opines:

“I’m not judging other parents for how they raise their children, despite my disagreement on this topic. I just don’t understand why the tradition stopped. Has our culture lost its respect for its elders? Have we just become a more informal society? Or maybe our desire to elevate our kids’ self worth has gone overboard, and we don’t want our kids to feel they are ‘beneath’ anyone else.”

Really? These are the only possible explanations? That we don’t, as a whole, respect our elders or that we are all wholly dedicated to instilling malignant narcissism in our kids tiny tyrannical monarchs?

I don’t know if the other option — that we’re just a more informal society — is the correct one, but I do know that on a scale of one to things that actually effing matter, this little issue carries a negative integer.

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This isn’t a problem. My kid still calls people by their first names, but as she has been out in society, she has adapted. Doctors go by their titles. Teachers and administrators are Mr. or Mrs. Last Name. Parents of children who address me as “Mrs. Edwards” are hailed the same way. And finally, when an adult asks her to address them more formally, she acquiesces quite happily because — and I know this is hard to believe — she is a polite kid.

She respects adults innately, sometimes irrespective of whether they deserve it. You know what we should be teaching kids, over and above how to pull on tea gloves and discreetly empty their chamber pots? That deeds trump words every day of the damn week. Calling someone “Mrs. Last Name” has the veneer of politeness, but it doesn’t say anything about the character of the person saying it. I’d rather my child be respectful than carry just the trappings of it to check it off a list.

You know what’s actually rude as hell? Hearing a kid call you by your first name, not saying anything about it, stewing in the bitter, salty juices of your misguided notion that “kids these days” are but mere husks of “kids in my day,” well known for their unwavering respect and curtsy technique, and then judging a parent’s skills based on how much wronger than you that you perceive them to be.

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What happened to kids calling adults by their last names? I dunno. What happened to laudanum and those pocket watches you have to wind and rolling a hoop down the dirt road with a stick?

Who cares?

If you say, “Me! I care!” then that’s great. I can respect that you prefer a moniker that establishes you as an authority figure. I won’t mock you for that, and I will make sure my kid addresses you in the way you prefer. But you do have to use your words, OK? Even barbaric little toddlers are taught that this is the way to conflict resolution.

It’s called being polite.

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