Why I Don't Want My Child To Call Adults By Their First Name

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
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Maybe it’s because I was raised by parents who grew up in the South. Perhaps it’s because I’m black and historically and culturally it’s not what we do. Whatever the reason, let me be clear: I don’t want my kids calling you by your first name.

Society is so different now, versus when I was growing up. Back in the ’80s, kids didn’t even think about addressing an adult without a proper title. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and neighborhood adults were obvious. Even if our relationship wasn’t one that would typically require a title, like a cousin or a family friend, we kids would figure out the appropriate thing to call you quickly.

I have to be honest: there’s plenty to hate about being raised in the Eighties. There was a lot of neglect happening, even in the very best families, and many of us had childhoods that were filled with trauma because our parents just didn’t know better. Times are different now, thankfully.

Parents nowadays are much more connected with their children than many folks were back in the day. We try to understand our children better, instead of just telling them how it is. We encourage them to talk and ask questions, and not many families follow the “kids are to be seen and not heard” way of parenting anymore. Relationships between adults and children are more casual overall. I’m grateful for all of that. Still, there’s something important that can be gained by kids when we teach them how to respect their elders at a foundational level.

I believe with my whole heart that children and adults are equal. Age isn’t a factor in determining whether or not someone should be respected. What I see often now is adults doing the work of learning to respect kids as humans. In that process, though, we’re blurring the lines between adult and child, and boundaries are being crossed, in my opinion.

An adult is not a child’s peer. You are not my daughter’s friend. You are not indoctrinating a child in adult superiority if you ask them to address you with a title. You’re teaching them respect. It’s okay if she calls you Ms. So-and-So, or Teacher Such-and-Such. Trust me, she’ll still grow up feeling confident and loved.

Think of it like this: an adult has been through so much to become who they are. Through the years, they’ve gained knowledge and experience beyond that of a child. Kind of like how, after 8 years of schooling plus boards and a residency, we call folks by the title of “Doctor.” Miss or Ms. is an earned title, and I want to make sure my kids give you your due.

If you absolutely insist on being called by your first name, of course, I’ll honor your wishes. We all have the right to be addressed in the way that we choose, but I’m going to be uncomfortable every time I hear my child say your name. There have been times when I’ve had my daughter tack on a neutral title and use their first name like “Teacher Emily” or “Coach Kim,” and everyone seems to be happy with that compromise.

Honestly, I don’t see why it is a big deal. I still call people my parent’s age and older Mr. or Mrs. I don’t even call my in-laws by their first names without a title. It’s how I was brought up, and that respect is ingrained in my head at this point. I can’t even imagine calling my mother-in-law Mary. She probably wouldn’t mind, but it just wouldn’t feel right to me.

I really do like the direction society is headed in terms of how adults and children are learning to relate. I don’t want us to get so far gone, though, that we lose what makes our relationships so important in the first place. A little bit of formality and respect creates much needed boundaries that aids in a child’s development.

Also, it gives kids something to look forward to. One day they, too, can be a Miss, Mr., or Coach So-and-So, whatever they wish. You know, after they’ve earned it.

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