If you ever asked when children stopped addressing “grown-ups” by their last name, you're not alone. In a culture that favors informality, the practice of calling adults Mr./Mrs. Last Name seems to have fallen out of favor.
However, one mom wonders if we've lost something else along with that tradition.
As mom and blogger Danielle Larkins writes in the Washington Post, she still remembers getting in trouble for using her eighth-grade teacher's first name. Sent to the principal's office, Larkins got a second dose of discipline from her parents, who sternly told her that she was never to address an adult by his or her first name.
And yet, as a parent, she finds it rare to be called anything else. Larkins writes:
“Calling adults by their first name has become the cultural norm in households, neighborhoods, and even schools. In most circles I am introduced to children as Ms. Danielle. What ever happened to Mrs. Larkins?”
As a child, she learned that calling an adult by his or her last name was part of respecting her elders. As an adult, she still calls her friends' parents by their last names. When and why did that change?
At 33, Larkins,pictured below, is hardly a relic of a bygone generation. She stresses that she isn't judging other parents for teaching their children differently. But when she asks people why they don't instruct their kids to use adults' last names as a sign of respect, they can't answer.
“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.”
Larkins accepts that her family might be considered out-of-step for her insistence on using last names. However, she feels that this is a tradition that needs to continue.
As she explains in the Post, there is an important lesson to be found in the way that children are taught to address their elders:
“The way a child addresses an adult not only displays respect but an acknowledgment of authority, one that establishes boundaries.”
Some might object that what kids call adults isn't as important as how they are taught to behave. However, Larkins says it isn't an either/or situation. Adults might have to earn respect from their actions, but that's no reason why a child shouldn't also use a respectful way of addressing them. She tells Independent Journal Review:
“I absolutely agree that respect comes from attitude and how kids are taught to treat people. My point is that when a child is first greeting an adult, a way of showing his/her initial respect is the way the child addresses the adult.”
Larkins tells IJR that she has taught her children to start with a formal address, but be sensitive to people's preferences:
“Much like we adults go to a doctor and don't say, 'Hi Bob.' We say, 'Hi Dr. Smith.' I have taught my children to address adults by their last name but if an adult prefers to be called something else, then they respect that.”
Larkins says she isn't claiming that respect only comes from a way a child addresses an adult. However, the way this “old-fashioned” practice affects that relationship might benefit both children and adults.
As Larkins writes in the Post, it may be a small thing, but it could mean so much more.