Mr. Mrs. Dr. Miss.: Titles and The Parents Choice

Many parents and educators comment that children of this generation are lacking in respect and etiquette in a variety of social areas. Most children learn how to address adults in conversation through watching their parents or being told by their parents. However, parents today have conflicting views about what the appropriate salutation of an adult should be. Do we teach our children to refer to our neighbors and friends as Dr. Mrs. Mr. or Miss.? Or, do we call them by their first names? Or, as some parents choose, Miss. and then the first name? For example, Miss. Jenny instead of Mrs. Smith.

This is a gray area in parenting that often confuses children and creates challenges for parents. In school, most educators are referred to with proper titles and children become accustom to calling teachers and principals with their title and last name. Developmentally, we know children are capable of doing this effectively. Children as young as ages two and three can learn and speak multiple languages, therefore pronouncing one’s last name is not the challenge. The idea that children are too young to learn titles and last names lacks any sufficient evidence.

Parents who choose the more formal and proper salutation of adults (Mrs. Smith) become conflicted when their children hear their peers not following the same rule or have adults requesting to be called something else (Miss. Jenny). Similarly, parents who prefer a casual approach and use first names and Miss. with the first name, become conflicted when they are being called Mr. or Mrs. or if their children are being asked to call adults by proper titles (Mrs. Smith).

In our geographic area of Southern California, there is not one right way of addressing adults. Preference lies within families, schools, communities, and religious institutions. There is, however, a better way of communication between parents so that this gray area becomes less challenging and frustrating; and most importantly, less confusing for our children. This can begin with parents having the conversation within their playgroups and greater community regarding their personal preference for titles. Is there a consensus or do some parents need to be aware that there is a variance? Moreover, teaching children that there are a variety of ways to address someone also opens up the dialogue toward diversity and tolerance. It shows that as long as we follow our family rules and not disrespect other family rules, then we are making a respectful choice. Parents can say to their children (age five and up) “We prefer you say Mrs. Smith (or Jenny) until Mrs. Smith (or Jenny) asks you to call her something else” Or “We prefer you ask the adult what they want to be called. Do you like Mrs. Or Miss?” This approach provides children the boundary and the permission to make a decision based on what your family prefers. In a diverse culture, communication and preparing children with expectations is what is needed to create a respectful and well-rounded young person.