Are we teaching children to be disrespectful?

I occasionally teach children’s etiquette classes and I always introduce myself as Ms. Clise to the children. When I ask the kids in my class how they address their teachers and their parents’ friends the majority of them say they call these adults by their first names. I’m continually shocked by this.

When I was growing up I wouldn’t dream of calling adults by their first name. It just wouldn’t feel right. It would be too informal. My friends and I would jokingly refer to our parents by their first names to each other, but never when speaking to each others’ parents.

In my most recent children’s class there was a parent who participated in the session. The children knew her and all called her by her first name – Susie. It sounded very odd and made me uncomfortable. As I drove home after the class I thought about why this bothered me so much.

When we address others by a title and their last name it is a sign of respect, whether you’re eight or sixty-eight. It communicates a formality as well. When children address adults by their first name it makes the adult more of a peer to the child. It lacks the deference a child should show to an adult. I think this contributes to disrespect and insolence towards adults.

Children seem to get away with murder these days. Behavior that never would have been tolerated even 20 years ago is now regularly accepted – like talking back to an adult, refusing to follow instruction, calling adults names, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an uptight person. I don’t want to return to the restrictive and formal days of past, but I think we are doing our children a disservice by allowing them to call us by our first names. Asking children to address us by our last names conveys our expectation of respect, and that is good for both of us.

What do you think? If you’re a parent do you allow children to call you or other adults by their first name? If so, why? Do you think there is a connection between less formality and more disrespect?



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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. ConfidentCookin on January 29, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Interesting article. I completely get what you are saying, but I think young teachers don’t want to be Mr/Ms. X…makes them feel old or insecure. Do you think this is just in Seattle or all over the country?

  2. ArdenClise on January 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Hi ConfidentCookin, I do think this is something that is practiced more on the West coast. The West tends to be more informal and relaxed. I’m not really sure of the reason teachers and other adults want children to call them by their first name. Perhaps it has to do with wanting to be more modern, more progressive. I’d love to hear from a teacher or parent who prefers children address them by their first name.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. andreaballard on January 31, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Hi Arden, I definitely think this is a regional issue. When we go to visit my relatives down South, everyone insists on Mrs/Mr, Yes Ma’am and No Sir. When my daughter uses those terms of address in Seattle, some adults are downright rude back to her – “Don’t call me that!” “Mrs. Smith is my mother,” “You make me feel so old when you call me Ma’am,” and other comments along those lines. It’s confusing to her and even more so to me.

    I think the connection between formality in respect in the eyes of the child has more to do with the person being a ‘grown up’ and less to do with the title they use.

    Interesting thoughts!

  4. ArdenClise on February 1, 2012 at 8:25 am


    I’m not surprised that the South is more formal and expects children to use a formal address. But, it really surprises me West coast adults are so uncomfortable with a formal address and I’m especially dismayed they are so rude to your daughter in response. Wow. I wonder why we got so casual in the West.

    Very true that an adult who acts like a grown up will garner more respect than one who is immature or trying to be one of the kids.

    Thanks for commenting. Lots of food for thought.

  5. Erika Spooner on February 2, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    My kids were asked to call their preschool teachers Miss [first name]. I think the explanation that was given to me was that it was easier for them to say. I guess I can see it with really young kids but I think once they start school, they are perfectly capable of using last names.

  6. ArdenClise on February 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Erika, I’ve heard from other people that their teacher has her students call her Miss and her first name. I can live with that. It’s at least got an honorific before the name. But, I agree, teach them how to pronounce the name and have them call you by your last name.

    Thanks for piping in. I hope all is well.

  7. Jennifer King on July 12, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Hi, Arden! I completely agree with you, and as a rule, my kids address all adults as Mr. or Mrs. (Heck, I still address my friends’ parents this way, and well, I’m not even close to being a kid!) The only exception is if the adult is particularly strident about not being addressed that way, in which case I tell my kids to respect that adult’s wishes about what he or she would like to be called. That is definitely the exception, though, and we all find ourselves stumbling over our words when we call those people by their first names. Thanks for all your fantastic etiquette tips!

  8. ArdenClise on July 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Hi Jennifer, so great to “see” you here. Good for you for teaching your kids to address adults by their last names. Yes, if an adult requests being called by their first name it is correct to respect their wishes.
    Thanks for the compliment. Glad my tips are helpful.

  9. Mary on October 10, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Hi Arden,
    I totally agree with Jennifer’s post, and your comments. I especially believe children should have to address teacher’s by Mr., Mrs., or Ms., and believe they should adults as well. And I too still address my friends’ parents that way.
    Love your blog!!!

  10. ArdenClise on August 20, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    @Mary Thank you Mary. Glad to have you as a reader. Sorry for the late response, I must have missed your comment when you posted it.

  11. Lora Crites on September 24, 2014 at 4:50 am

    I appreciate your article. My husband and I are raising our children to address all adults by their title. To us, this connotes respect and to do otherwise would be a serious indication of rudeness and disrespect. When discussing events and situations involving adults while in front (e.g. Did

  12. ArdenClise on November 21, 2014 at 9:42 am

    @Lora Crites Thank you for commenting. I applaud you for raising your children to be respectful of adults. It really does make a difference both for children and the adults in their life when there is that respectful distance. I wish there was more of it.

  13. Hayley S on April 8, 2015 at 7:47 am

    According to my manners book, manners are acceptable behavior defined my most people AT A CERTAIN TIME/PLACE. What none of you seem to grasp is that what was rude 50 years ago isn’t always rude today, and what is polite in one place isn’t always polite in another. In the West, it is OK to call adults by their first names (I grew up there!), while it might not be OK in the East. Whether an adult wants to be called by their first name or Mr./Ms., I respect that. 
    Comparing the first name thing to talking back is ridiculous.

  14. Lulu on April 11, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Whatever happened to honoring people’s wishes? That’s the whole point of titles. Some people just don’t want to be addressed by a title, and even some people feel uncomfortable being addressed that way. Get over it. It’s not up to the parent, it’s up to the person. The parents who teach their kids to call all adults Mr. and Mrs. regardless of what the adults prefer need to get off their high horses. You’re no better than the irresponsible parents who encourage kids to call all adults by their first names. It’s one thing to prefer a title for yourself; it’s another thing to want all adults to follow suit. 
    As for the regional thing, it’s not like the informal west coast is encouraging bad manners by first names for adults. It’s that their manners are different from the east coast. And not to mention that first names for adults are also OK in Australia. Take a trip to Australia and see for yourself if it is the bastion of extreme disrespect. I’m not saying that they should abolish titles in the east coast. If the east coasters want to cling to them, fine. I’m all for doing what the Romans do in Rome. 
    Also in the World’s Strictest Parents, most of the strict parents go by their first names. That pretty much demolishes the proposition that first names contribute to disrespect and insolence. The author used the slippery slope fallacy. Also the anecdotal fallacy.

  15. CaseoftheMondays on April 12, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    In Finland, students address teachers by their first names. Ironically, Finland is above us in education.

  16. CaseoftheMondays on April 12, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    All in all, it’s a cultural thing.

  17. ArdenClise on April 26, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    @Hayley S You’re correct, manners do evolve and what was appropriate at one time may not be appropriate at a later time or different region. Case in point; people no longer call each other by last names in the workplace, at least in the United States. But 40 years ago it would have been rude not to do so.

    I absolutely agree that if an adult wants to be addressed by his/her first name the child should comply. That’s respectful.

    Thanks for commenting.

  18. ArdenClise on April 26, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    @Lulu Thank you for your comments. I am completely in support of honoring people’s wishes. But until you know what an adult prefers it’s always more respectful to start by addressing him/her with a title and his/her last name.

  19. ArdenClise on April 26, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    @CaseoftheMondays That’s interesting. Thanks for sharing. Yes indeed it is a cultural thing. As @Lulu said, when in Rome do as the Romans do.

  20. Sarah on May 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    When you address someone with their first name, it means you are their equal. In other words, neither can tell the other what to do. The use of last names separates people, and often separation is vital in order to maintain respect.

    When one deals with a person in authority – for example, a boss that can fire you – it feels to me a falsehood to address him with a first name, and for him to address his employee with a first name. How does a reprimand or a firing take place when you address one another with a first name? “Well, Julie (a friendly form of address), I’m sorry to tell you that I’m going to have to let you go.” In other words, Julie, I can address you as a friend, but I’m about to remove the (probably) only source of survival that you have, take that!!!! I think having distance in such a circumstance allows one the freedom to not feel the cognitive dissonance that comes from experiencing a nasty separation from someone you are in a first-name warm and fuzzy situation with. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well or not.

    I think the same applies to schooling. The last time I visited a school, I was shocked at the sheer chaos, inattentiveness, rudeness, and zoo-like disrespect in American classrooms. I don’t know if parents think this is great, but I certainly didn’t. How anyone can concentrate or function in such an environment is beyond me. Then when I heard the kids referring to their teachers as Susie, John, and Mildred, I realized why there is such a horrific, non-learning environment in American schools today. Respect was thrown out the window. Kids now interrupt their teachers or turn fully around, walk out of the classroom, yell expletives, or simply talk over their teachers and say, “I’m not doing that,” to whatever their instructor is asking students to do. Scary!!!

    Yesterday I heard a parent tell a child to stop hitting her child, and the kid said, “Oh shut up.”

    I blame parents for omitting respect completely in the rearing of their children.

  21. Arden Clise on May 22, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Sarah.

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