For me, I’ll answer the question in four words: Yes, ma’am, Miss Betty!
Of course, I will elaborate so as to support my answer. I know this is a LONG answer, but please hear (read) me out! I truly stand behind this position because of the experiences I had as a child in relation to the adults in my life, and I’m very thankful that I was raised that way.
As a child, I referred to my young cousins by their first names, but referred to my aunts and uncles as, for instance, “Aunt Joyce” and “Uncle Peter”. To this day, I still refer to them in this way. Part of the reason is out of force of habit, but more so because they are my elders. They’ve lived longer, are full of wisdom from life’s experiences, and this status warrants and deserves respect. I believe that my elders sense my respect for them and appreciate it, as well. Because my young cousins were my peers, I didn’t feel the same level of respect for them or for their opinions as I did for their parents. The same courtesy applied to the adult friends of my parents. I didn’t address them by their first names, as I did their children. If I’d done so, I’d have been in big trouble! By the way, I called my parents “Mom and Dad”, not “Steven and Claire”.
When we lived in New York, my brothers and I referred to our parents’ friends and other adults as “Mr. Smith” and “Mrs. Jones”. When we moved to Louisiana, the tradition in the south was (and still is) to refer to our adult family friends as “Miss Carolyn” and “Mr. John”. The reason again … respect for their position as our elders.
As new generations emerge and trends change, should it be expected that all traditions that were begun by our parents and grandparent change because new trends appear? Yes, in some cases, because of progress and growth of technology and new means of social interaction. But, some traditions must not lax, and for good reason. Addressing the generations that have come before us by showing them the respect that they deserve not only instills in children that elders should be revered and respected, but it instills good etiquette and manners that all adults appreciate from children who behave this way. Isn’t it apparent when children speak with respect and manners to elders, it displays a sense of intelligence? Isn’t it also true that when a child exhibits these respectful manners, it reflects as positive upbringing by his or her parents? The adult being addressed respectfully appreciates this courtesy. I know that as an adult, the occasions where I’d been addressed by a child by my first name, just didn’t sit right with me. I felt as though that child “should be taught some manners”, and I silently blamed the parents for the lack of proper parenting. To be honest, I felt a bit insulted. Do we want our children to unknowingly insult or “diss” the adults they would speak to?
Lastly, and most importantly, if we teach our children that it’s just fine to consider adults equals that can be placed on their same level … this may translate to the children that they really don’t have any reason to respect for their elders’ opinions, experiences, wisdom, advice, or any of the infinite benefits they could receive from the wisdom of the generations that came before them. If children don’t demonstrate respect and honor to adults by simply the way they address them, then why should children place any value on authority at all?
To teach our children respect for adults by instilling the manners of properly addressing adults, we give our children a reason to listen, to take their advice, to place value on what they teach them, and ultimately allows these children to learn. The appreciation felt by the adults being addressed properly, in turn, allows our children to be viewed as “being properly raised by their parents”. Our children will go on to repeatedly display these manners and receive mutual respect as they grow into adulthood themselves.
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