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Last updated: Tue. Nov. 27, 2012 - 11:50 am EDT

Mr. and Mrs. Manners

Addressing adults depends on situation, their preference

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“Teacher! Teacher!”

It’s a common way Erin Fudge’s kindergarten students address her early on in the school year at Little Turtle Elementary School in Columbia City.

“That’s something we work on,” Fudge says. “When we see grownups in the building, we address them by ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Mr.’ ” and their last name.

The topic of how children should address adults is a popular one in the parenting world. Ask Amy advice columnist Amy Dickinson addressed the issue this year, telling a father that his children should call adults by a courtesy title and a last name, unless the adult has a different preference.

Beverly Hills Manners CEO and founder Lisa Gaché told a parenting writer that children addressing adults as “Mr. and Mrs. Last Name” is a dying trend, but it varies regionally. In Southern California, many parents prefer to be called by their first name, while in the South and parts of the Northeast, things are more traditional and most adults expect to be called by a title and surname.

Meanwhile, a title and first name – such as Miss Kelly or Mr. Ted – is becoming more common in outside-the-classroom settings, such as ballet or even the doctor’s office, with the idea being that “You’re sick, so we’re going to see Ms. Molly” fosters a more comfortable relationship between the doctor and patient, Gaché says.

Fudge has three sons – 11, 9 and 6 – and when they were younger, she taught them to call adults by a courtesy title and last name, though close friends can be called by their first names.

“We would talk about manners,” she says. “When someone talks to you, make sure you try to look them in the eye. Use nice, clear voices. Address them respectfully.”

Julie Kerns of Fort Wayne grew up calling elders “Aunt” and “Uncle” or, for older people, “Grandma” or “Grandpa.”

“I was raised this way, and my kids were also raised that way,” she says. “Just over time, they were taught that it was rude for somebody that young to call an adult by their first name.”

Today, her children are 21, 20 and 14, and they still call close adults by the respectful terms.

Her youngest will sometimes call her friends’ mothers “Mom,” Kerns says, and her daughter’s friends will sometimes call her “Mom,” too, or “Julie.”

“It’s whatever you’re comfortable with, I guess,” she says. “I was just always raised that it was improper for a young child to call an adult by their first name.”

Jennifer Harning’s children are still young – 3 and 5 – so while she hasn’t had a specific conversation with them about how to address adults, she does try to ensure they address the adult how the adult prefers.

She, for example, doesn’t want to be called “Miss Jennifer.” She prefers simply “Jennifer,” but if it has to be a courtesy title, she prefers “Mrs. Harning.”

“Most of my friends are perfectly comfortable with (kids calling them by their) first names,” says Harning, of Huntertown. “They call even their grandparents sometimes by their first names.”

In addition to their four grandparents, Harning’s children have six great-grandparents, and when the kids talk about them, it can get confusing if they don’t use first names. In person, her children call them “Grandma” and “Grandpa,” though they don’t usually address their great-grandparents, Harning says.

“I think in general, things are less (formal now than they used to be),” she says, “but it does kind of depend on who you’re with. You still have to be aware of where you are and using what is proper in that situation. That is something I’m trying to teach my kids – always be aware of the situation.”

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