First Name Basis: Is It OK for Kids to Call Adults By Their First Names?

We all want our children to show respect when they greet people, but are formal titles necessary to achieve that?

It seems they’re becoming a thing of the past in some parenting circles. In fact, some say the days of kids using “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Last Name when addressing a friend’s parent or another non-related grown-up may soon be behind us.

That could be seen as a good thing – why does using a formal title automatically convey respect, anyway? But others say it’s just another sign that today’s generation of kids is falling behind when it comes to that all-important “respect your elders” rule.

In one recent Washington Post piece, the author notes the trend but contends that kids using last names is a “necessary tradition with no expiration date.”

“The way a child addresses an adult not only displays respect but an acknowledgment of authority, one that establishes boundaries,” the author writes.

As a parent, I’m trying to teach my kids to be respectful and polite but I’m more concerned with the basics: saying “hello” when introduced to someone new, using “please” and “thank you,” following the rules at someone else’s home and so on. Except for teachers and coaches – who usually tell children what to call them on day one – enforcing a Mrs. Last Name moniker for all other adults hasn’t really been on my radar.

Instead, it’s much more common in my group of friends to introduce another parent as “Ms. First Name” or even their first name alone. It feels more casual and natural that way, though most parents I know are also fine with being known only as “Johnny’s dad” or “Bella’s mom.”

Besides, I’m not necessarily a believer that kids should be trained to treat every person older than them as an automatic authority figure.

We asked readers on Metro Parent’s Facebook page for their take on the issue.

“I think respect is more about manner and tone, not necessarily about the words of address,” Tara Lindsay writes. “Just because a child uses Miss, Mrs., or Mr. doesn’t mean there is any respect in how it is done. Likewise, using the first name doesn’t mean disrespect, either.”

And parents like Dayna Mattis say there’s no disrespect implied when a child uses their first name.

“I have no problem with kids addressing me by my first name,” she comments.

Reader Eva Olague writes that it’s a matter of respect that is “getting lost by the new generation.” Other families are looking to strike a balance somewhere in the middle.

“I think putting a Miss or Ms. or Mr. in front of the first name is appropriate for people like club leaders, babysitters, friends of parents, etc.,” Jennifer Lavender-Schott writes. “Last names should still be used for teachers, doctors and other professionals.”

Carly Paul commented that her family uses aunt/uncle for close family friends, first names with “Ms.” or “Mr.” for younger adults like babysitters, and the more traditional last name approach for everyone else.

“I assure you, hubby and I cannot call our CEOs, regardless of age, ‘Bob’/’Sue’ or ‘Miss Brandy’/’Mr. Kyle’ when we have occasion to meet them,” she writes. “We also teach them to show the same respect to the school custodian and cook as they would the President or Pope.”

It’s tough when you’re a kid, trying to keep track of all the different people you meet and what you’re supposed to call them. When I wasn’t sure which title to use as a kid (and I even remember getting overly concerned about mixing up Ms. versus Mrs.), I’d start with, “Um…” and try to skip the whole name ordeal altogether. Using a first name has to be better than that, right?

While the importance of formal titles may be up for debate, we do know this: Respect is best shown through your actions, anyway – not your words.

Do you think it’s OK for kids to call adults by their first names? Tell us why or why not in the comments!


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