“What happened to kids addressing adults by their last names?” asks mommyblogger Danielle Larkins in the Washington Elite Daily (formerly the Post) this morning. Danielle’s “not judging other parents,” she writes, but they’re doing a bad job and their kids are rude, entitled narcissists.
Back in Danielle’s day (she is a wise old 33), it was never, never, okay for a child to address an elder by their first name. She learned this when she got in trouble as a sassmouthed 13-year-old for calling a teacher Nancy. The lecture she subsequently received from her parents was so traumatic that she had to pass it down to her kids (these are the rules of parenting), and now cannot believe other parents aren’t doing the same.
“In most circles I am introduced to children as Ms. Danielle. What ever happened to Mrs. Larkins? Did my last name escape my womb along with my child?” she wonders.
“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.”
This is strange, because at no point does she attempt to make a distinction between a situation where disrespect is intended—a kid calling a teacher by their first name just to be an insouciant brat—and situations where kids add a Mr., Ms., or Mrs. out of respect.
If the common practice of teachers encouraging kids to address them in the “Ms. Firstname” format strikes you as equivalent to sneeringly calling a teacher Nancy, of course you think the current generation of kids has lost all respect for its elders.
Have we just become a more informal society, or is civilization’s collapse imminent because bad parents (no offense!) are teaching their kids to shatter the social contract that keeps us all from turning on each other, Lord of the Flies-style?
We’ve just become a more informal society, Danielle. Chill.
When you were a kid, it was more common for adults to address each other by surname in the course of doing business. It made a certain amount of sense to inculcate kids into this practice, which would serve them well as grownups. But the adult world has changed, and the kid world has followed suit. It’s specious to ignore one of those shifts in a rant about the other.
Men stopped wearing hats at some point, too. Weird how cultural norms around formality can shift over a period of decades.
There’s also a geographical, historical, and maybe even racial bias in Danielle’s assumption that addressing one’s elders as Ms. or Mr. Firstname is rude. Do kids growing up the South and parts of the Midwest, where this has commonly been considered plenty respectful and deferential to one’s elders, have an outsized sense of self-worth? Are their parents raising them to be little egomaniacs with no respect for authority?
Ms. Danielle, who resides in northern Virginia, does acknowledge that this could be a “regional phenomenon,” but doesn’t consider that any other region’s norms could be acceptable.
Perhaps what is ruining everything is not kids, with their refusal to do things the way things were done Back in the Day, but adults, who have decided it is important to have a Personal Brand, and that a good personal brand to have is 33-Year-Old Wagging Finger at Kids Today.
If you expect children to respect you, the least you can do is to respect yourself.