A Shift in Formality: Has It Led to Lack of Respect?

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Back in the day, spouses did not address each other on a first name basis, at least not in front of others. While that may seem a bit extreme to us married folks from 2018, there was indeed a lot more formality, decorum and chivalry long ago that has all but vanished from modern society.

Sometimes, when my kids and I sift through boxes of old photos, they’ll come across one or two pictures where their older siblings and parents are all dressed up. They inevitably inquire as to what the occasion might have been, and the answer is often as simple as, “It was so-and-so’s birthday,” or “so-and-so was visiting that day.” The kids are surprised that we dress “soooooooooo formal” as they would say, when “Christmas or going to church” wasn’t even involved. Their reactions cause me to ponder (and mourn, perhaps?) the days when we’d stay in our Sunday best all day; it was a day set aside and our clothing illustrated the fact.

Another thing that has changed is that kids often speak to adults on a first-name basis nowadays. That never, and I mean NEVER would have happened when I was a child. I have raised my own children as I was brought up, to address adults by their status title, as Mr., Mrs., or Miss. I also have taught them to insert the sir name, not the first name, following the title. I believe that teaching children this simple act of addressing adults helps draw boundary lines and instill respectful behavior.

Through the years, my children would sometimes come to me saying that Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so said that makes them feel old, and they want to be called by their first names. I would simply tell my children to politely explain that their parents do not allow them to address adults on a first name basis.

Some adults can be quite insistent, so there were occasions when we allowed the preferred “Miss (insert first name” rather than a proper title. When the woman in question is married, it creates a whole other quandary because Miss is typically a title reserved for single women.

I often wonder why some married women do not want to be identified as such. They say it makes them feel old. I’ve never understood the idea behind this. Do they think that if they hear themselves addressed as their younger, single selves, they will be guaranteed to stay young forever?

When children call adults by their first names, it often begins to break down the lines of authority, placing everyone on the same playing field, when in fact, that’s not how it should be. My mouth has dropped to the floor (and so have the mouths of my kids, which somehow brings me relief) to hear the nasty way some young people address or speak to adults in public. It goes far beyond first name calling – think: F bombs, insults, raised voices and extremely degrading and rebellious speech.

How/when did this happen in our nation? What straw broke the respect camel’s back and allowed children to start bulldozing over adults as though they are nothing more than back alley peers?

In contend that most children would greatly benefit from turning back the hands of custom to the time when kids were kids, adults were adults, and everyone knew the difference. I personally feel pleased, happy and proud to hear myself addressed by my married title.

Remember the days when young ladies would practice signing their name as though they were married to their dream guys? What happens between the doodling and 10 years later when they’re teaching Sunday school? Why are they willing to bear the name before they are married but want to hide it after the wedding takes place?

As a Catholic, I’ve also noticed a similar trend within the church. Long ago, priests were also addressed as Father (insert sir name). Now, they often go by their first names as well, even when children are speaking to them.

It doesn’t stop there. I often hear athletes calling coaches by their first names, without inserting the title of “coach” at all! To tell you the truth, this blows my mind. I can’t fathom an athlete from my generation waltzing up to a coach and addressing him or her by a first name. In fact, some of us have been married 30 or more years and have children of our own, and when we see our coaches in public, we still address them as, “Coach.”

Perhaps the better questions to ask are: Why shouldn’t children refer to adults by their formal titles? Is it wrong? Is it harmful? Is it too difficult? Is there something off-putting about formality or ceremony or respectful behavior in public?

I know that many adults appreciate such token gestures of kindness. Many times, I’ve been approached by other adults who say they were moved by my children’s respectful tones and behavior, simply because my kids addressed them by their formal titles.

I am 53. I have 10 children and 6 grand-children, and if I see a parent of a childhood friend, or any adult who is old enough to be my own parent, you can bet your bottom dollar I am not going to address them on a first name basis.

What are your thoughts on this topic?


Writer Bio: Judy Dudich

Judy Dudich resides in the beautiful woods of Pennsylvania, where 24 acres of land and a home-office provide the perfect setting for her children’s home-education and her own homesteading and business ventures. Life is full of blessings (and challenges!) for Judy, as a wife, mother of 10 and Grammy to six. She is a published author, whose book, “I Surrender/A Study Guide for Women” continues to encourage and support others in Christian family lifestyles throughout the world. Judy has also previously worked in the online speaking circuit. Her passion for permaculture, re-purposing, foraging and organic gardening fills her days with learning and adventure that she loves to share.


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