Friday, May 23, 2014

Stop Being a Friend to Children: Call Me Mr.Tibbs

It is my opinion that too many adults go around advocating the type of poor manners that feed into the creation of annoying, possibly rotten, definitely disrespectful children. They say, "Just call me (my first name)" or "Mr. (Last Name) is my father's name..." accompanied with a good-natured laugh. This is the new normal.

You know what else is the new normal? Rude, disrespectful and ill-mannered children and teens. Children who - having become too familiar with the responsible adult in their lives - feel a sense of freedom, even entitlement, to disagree, spit back or even outwardly defy adult admonitions and cautions.
We have become companions, not coaches; we are friends, not leaders; we are food and money machines and not hard-working, educated, experienced elders who have wisdom to share.

You may say, "Kids have always been this way," referring to popular tales of teen angst or pre-teen turmoil. I say, "Yes, but parents have not always been this way..." I am not proposing public beatings or emotional abuse,  but I am saying that parents have a right, even a responsibility, to honor the role of a being a parent and insist on being referred to by a dignified title. There is nothing wrong with being Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. There is something wrong with a nine-year-old calling me by my first name.

An elementary school teacher friend of mine put this in a very logical way. "I cannot be a friend to my students (being called by her first name) because it is my job to protect them. I cannot lead them or manage them if they don't have respect for me." This aura of respect translates to the world outside the classroom as well.

Yes, ma'am. No, sir.  Yes, please. No, thank you. This should not be a regional responsibility (Thank you, southern states in the U.S.!) or a nostalgic memory. This should be encouraged, required and modeled. Good manners develop grace, and grace is admired with good reason.  A gracious person has access to others' hearts and homes that an ungracious person does not.

It's amazing that when my children refer to a friend's parents as "Mr." or "Mrs." those parents coo and wonder at their "good manners" but they permit their own children to call adults by "whatever that adult wants to be called". It's ironic.

In the interest of honesty, I cannot say that my children call ALL adults by their respective titles. This is partly because within our social circle there is a strong contingency of modernism in which this overly familiar treatment of adults flourishes. It's frustrating to me but I cannot correct my children without some well-meaning adult assuring me, "Oh, it's okay, it's fine..."  as if they were relieving me of some type of burden. They are actually making my job harder - my job of developing my children's respect for figures of authority.

It should be noted that teachers and people who work with children are taught to identify adults who encourage friendly relations with children, such as being called by their first name, as potential pedophiles. Odd, isn't it? But yet we still have a group of adults who insist this is their preference with children. I hold it is because these adults are uncomfortable with the idea of being responsible or authoritative. Well, that's too bad, because playtime is over, and it's time to be the adult figure you are supposed to be. That includes recognizing and honoring your role as the protective authority figure in your child's (or any other child's) life.

That being said, I don't teach my children to blindly follow all figures of authority all the time.  People are people, and they will make mistakes. Regardless of position or reasoning, disagreeing with an authority figure can still be done respectfully - depending on the situation. "I don't want to!" is expected by a three year old and is therefore forgivable. Yet as children grow older, it's no longer expected and it leans into "not appropriate". "No, thank you." is an effective reply at any age."I'll think about it." or "I'm not sure..." are other good responses to queries or comments by adults.  If children or teens are ever in doubt about the advice or request of an adult, they should seek out the advice of another, trusted, adult on the situation. Clearly, though, you must know that I am not referencing the household chores and homework that children must and should do.

Children and teens want leaders in their lives. They are comforted by the idea that "someone knows what's going on" and that they have adults in their lives "who have a clue". I draw this from years of experience of working with children and pre-teens, who contrary to television and other forms of media, are actually relieved when there are rules and consequences and someone is in charge. If we want to be in charge, imagine the response of substitute teacher. Does he or she write "Call me Sam" on the board? No. To initiate the appropriate relationship, he or she writes "Mr. (or Mrs.) Frank." When you observe this scene you know that this is correct. To be in charge, that teacher must be called by their last name by the children. When in battle, do soldiers listen to "Fred" or the one we refer to as 'commander'?

How do we handle meeting young people, particularly teens, for the first time? "It's nice to meet you. I'm Mrs. Jones." It's so hard, I know. Adults will look at you weirdly and the children may even look at you oddly. "What's up her butt?" they might wonder silently (or aloud). I encourage  you to try it out and stick with it. I'm trying, but it would be so much easier out there if it wasn't just me.

Some adults may possibly fear children not liking them or having fun with them. What is this? Is it the high school cafeteria all over again? Your own children will love you when they honor you. You will have fun with them because you can take them places and they will be safe because they have learned to respect you.  You can share jokes, laugh, tickle, giggle, cuddle and kiss. Other children? Who cares. If the neighbor's kids are a little afraid of you, well, so be it. Maybe they'll stay off your lawn and leave your dog alone. (Caution: I am not saying go out of your way to be mean to little kids. I have to state that because there are people who will twist the words to confuse the meaning just to try and destroy my soapbox.)

Adults are not perfect nor do we have all the answers. It is our job, though, to handle crises, to advise the troubled, help the inexperienced, tolerate the frustrations of those in our charge. I sincerely believe our job as adult leaders of youth is easier when we empower our authority by the way we reference ourselves in our relationships with them.

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