by Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
What’s in a title?
Does it matter what you teach your child to call their friend’s mom?
Seems like the only ones feeling awkward here are the adults who are teaching their children to address adults by their title – Mrs., Mr., Ms., Miss., and their children.
30 years ago, as a child, I can remember feeling awkward about what to call my friend’s mom. I had been taught to address adults by their title, yet, every other person my age was calling her by her first name.
There has been a shift (maybe not in the South, or in some other countries) where children are being taught by example and instruction to address adults by their first name. The exception being with doctors and teachers.
Because it is so awkward, many parents who believe that using titles is an important aspect of teaching a child proper manners, have abandon their efforts to do so.
Are we now value-neutral? If our child’s friend’s mom is not married but in a long-term relationship, is our
child to call her, Mrs. (the child’s last name), Mrs. (the boyfriend’s last name), Ms. (her last name), Miss (her last name). Or, enough already…her first name will suffice.
If I introduce my child to an older woman at church as “Mrs. Smith” and Mrs. Smith smiles and says, “Oh, that makes me feel so old! (giggle-giggle), call me Marge”…then what?
And what does my child do when he shows up at soccer practice the first day and the coach says, “My name is John. I’ll be your coach this year.”
And what about if half the Girl Scouts in my troop call me “Tracy” and the other half call me “Mrs. Lamperti.” Then who feels awkward?
1. Calling an adult by their title and last name makes the adult sound or feel old.
Many people say this. Google some newlywed images and tell me if those couples look old. I think not! They are pronounced “Man and Wife…you may kiss the bride…” and then the preacher says, “I now present to you, MR. AND MRS. JONES!” Everyone claps and the happy couple depart down the aisle. The title is a privilege!
2. A child will be more trusting and be able to confide in an adult more if they are on a first name basis.
Maybe, maybe not. There are no studies that show children have a harder time trusting adults whom they address with a title. On the contrary, a mature and responsible adult with a title, who shows care and concern for a child can make a child feel very safe.
3. “Respect” for an adult doesn’t come from the adult having a title, it comes from the adult treating the child with respect.
True – we have to start with a foundation of the adult treating the child well. Once that is equal, in fact, there is a two-part benefit from a child using a title. The child is able to remember that the adult has different responsibilities than the child, to teach, care for, protect, guide, etc. The adult is able to remember that they (the adult) are not a child and own these responsibilities. When the boundary gets blurred, even by something as simple as a title (or lack of), the child can begin to take the liberty to elevate their status and the adult can begin to slip into down to the child’s level of maturity, responsibility and accountability. Children do not have the same level of responsibility and accountability as adults.
4. Adults who expect a title are “stuck up” or “judgmental.”
Let’s face it. Titles do mean something. Mrs. Finnegan, the principal at Eastham Elementary School has a parking spot right in front with her name on it. She deserves that spot! She has an important role at
that school and not only should she be regarded as important, but she should have REASONABLE accommodations to allow her work to move ahead smoothly. When a child is sent to the office for something important, they aren’t going to see Scotti, they are going to see Mrs. Finnegan! At the same time, Mrs. Finnegan can bring her bike to school and be seen riding down the hall during a special week activity, without any loss of status.
I’m afraid we have slipped away from basic standards of etiquette, not only without a good reason, but with negative consequences.
· Why should it matter if we wear our play clothes vs. our Sunday best to church?
· Why should it matter if the guy gets the door for us?
· Why should it matter if we set the table according to a proper place setting?
· Why should it matter if we slobber our food down our chin (unless you’re a baby)?
· Why should it matter if our children say “please” and “thank you?”
· Why should it matter if we drop off a new neighbor package to the new neighbor?
Good behavior begets good things for our children. Children who have learned good manners from their families will be a joy to others in their family, school and community. When they get older, they will be more likely to be called back for the second interview. They will be more confident meeting their girlfriend’s parents. They will be more likely to think thought good decisions, because they have been taught that some ways are better than other ways.
What to do about this issue of what to teach your children to call adults?
1. Decide with your spouse, boyfriend or a trusted relative or friend what your ideal would be. You get to decide.
2. Think through the awkward situations and troubleshoot how you plan to handle them. Here I am talking about awkward using a title OR not using a title.
3. Teach your children by example and instruction. If a situation doesn’t go as expected, re-assure your child that they did the best they could and help them clarify how they will handle it the next time.
4. Teach your child, when in doubt, the safest route is to use the title. If the adult wants it another way, it is up to the adult to say so. You and the child can then sort it out.
The point is, you can choose. You can go with popular culture because either, you feel awkward otherwise or because you agree with popular culture. But you can maintain your standard, even when it goes against popular culture.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
Please see www.tracylamperti.com for more information about family dynamics and helping your children to thrive. If you would like 1:1 assistance, please contact Tracy Lamperti for a consultation.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
Psychotherapist, Educator, Consultant
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