Thursday, July 2, 2009

The 'sir and ma'am' Debate

Anthem boys We'd like our boys (and daughter...eventually) to show respect to adults they interact with in their lives.  My two boys are 7 and 9.  It's been about two years now that I've been bothered by the fact that they don't look other adults in the eye or speak respectfully to them when they are spoken to.  But, when I tell them to show respect, I tell them to definitely look people in the eye, but from there, I haven't made up my mind whether they should address adults as sir or ma'am, Mr. and Mrs., Miss or Mrs., Mr. (firstname) or Mrs. (last name).  

I grew up that it was respectful to call people by their last name.  For example, "Mr. and Mrs. Keneally", for instance.  I think that stems from my German roots.  In Germany, I've observed they call each other by last name in business settings.  They don't say "Herr" or "Frau" much anymore, from what I can tell, they just call each other "Nordhoff", for example.  

But, here in the south (I live in Tennessee), most kids address adults as "sir" or "ma'am".  We've tried the southern way and sometimes it feels awkward. They boys don't always do it and they don't want to look adults in the eye.  Shoot, I can't even get them to hug correctly.  When, they go to hug their "Amo" or "Apo", they go into the hug and turn around backwards...that's a new one to me. I feel very southern, which is not natural to me, to teach them the "sir" or "ma'am" route.  I guess if the military teaches its privates to show respect to those higher in rank, it can't be all that bad.

So, I'm not quite sure my intent with this blog post other than to share (with my little world or readers...which is very VERY small) my thoughts and challenges of teaching my kids to show respect to other adults.  I haven't made a clear decision on this, and that's half my problem. My kids are going to be so confused about this issue unless I decide on something soon.

The Word of God is the ultimate authority for our family.  I don't know why I don't turn to God sooner...well, I do know why...I'm self-centered by nature...aren't we all?  Regardless, here's what it says about children respecting adults:

"Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord." - Leviticus 19:32

The Ten Commandments teach that we honor our parents.

Romans 12:10 exhorts us to treat one another with brotherly love "in honor preferring one another". Philippians 2:3 encourage us to "esteem each other better" than ourselves. I Peter 2:17 states, "Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." I Peter 5:5 exhorts the elders in the church to feed the flock and be an example to them, but not be lords over God's heritage. The younger are to be submit themselves to the elder.

So, to me, I interpret that we do have a responsibility to raise our children to show respect to adults and even as they become adults, to show respect to their elders.  

So, help me God, as I struggle and find my way to do this.

Here are a couple of articles on the subject that I've read...or at least, skimmed...


  1. A wise woman once told me that it's not so much which words they use as the attitude with which they say them. Our kids can get very smart-aleck when they say "Yes, Ma'am" if it's said with an eye-roll or in a disrespectful tone. However, as born and bred southerners, we do prefer that our kids say "yes, ma'am or yes, sir", but we do not take offense if someone else's child doesn't address us as such, as long as their overall attitude is respectful. As far as the Mr or Mrs thing, I think it should be left up to the one being addressed. For example, when introducing our kids to adults, we ask the adult how they prefer to be addressed, then we proceed to introduce them. I personally do not care for being addressed as "Mrs. Perry", because that's my mother-in-law. I'm simply "Ms. Jill", but there are plenty of kids who address me as Mrs. Perry and I've grown used to it. Very few kids address me as only "Jill", but it's probably more the culture in which I live than anything else...As with any parenting technique, it's all about the heart and out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

  2. Great comments and thoughts, Jill. I said almost the same thing on Facebook about it being a matter of the heart rather than what is said. Lots of great comments this morning.

  3. Wow, big topic. Somehow all of my boys look people in the eye when they shake their hand. I think it's from watching their dad. In fact I'm sure of it. So pick a route and live it out! The pic at the top of this post is stunning. Beautiful children!

  4. Audra - great advice. The most important thing is how they watch's scary!! Just kidding.