Why I Don’t Let Kids Call Me By My First Name
Every week, I get together with a group of about ten to twelve junior high kids at my local church to study the Bible together. Depending on who you ask, spending a couple of hours with a bunch of teenage middle schoolers may sound like the last thing they’d want to do on a Wednesday night. I’ll be the first to admit it takes some getting used to.
However, it’s a blessing that, while awkward at first, I’ve grown to love.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to impact the lives of many young people who will one day, God willing, become the next generation of adults. Adults who, I hope, will do the same for other kids. That’s an investment worth the sacrifice.
Kids have gone in and out of the ministry, but I remember each one. I know them by name and they all remember mine: “Mr. Andrade”.
Call me old fashioned, but I have a rule with youngsters that if I’m old enough to be their dad, they shouldn’t be calling me by my first name. You may think that this is all just unneeded formality or that I’m some crabby, old dude who’s nostalgic about the way things were done in the past.
In our culture today, it may seem awkward or even silly to suggest that kids address you with a formal title like “mister” but if you’ll allow me, I’d like to give you three good reasons to consider why you should.
It Sets Up the Right Expectations
How we address each other matters. It’s the reason why you don’t call a police officer who pulls you over “dude” and it’s also the reason why you call your spouse something endearing like “babe”. We communicate something by the way we address each other and how we allow others to address us.
The problem with allowing kids to call adults by their first names is that it sets up the wrong expectations. For a kid, calling me by my first name communicates something whether I like it or not. What exactly is it communicating? That I’m their peer which is precisely what I’m not.
Hence, my insistence that kids call me “Mr. Andrade”. It serves as a reminder that I’m not their buddy and sets the expectation that I’m a person they should respect.
…calling me by my first name communicates something… That I’m their peer which is precisely what I’m not.
Many of the younger men I serve along side with — post high school, early college — have difficulty with this as they don’t know how to establish these expectations without no longer being “cool” and it’s reflected in how they let kids address them. What happens? Kids don’t take them or their leadership as seriously because those kids think these young men are peers who just happen to be a bit older than them.
Our job isn’t to be cool, it’s to be the model of what should be expected of them as they mature and get older. It means your age, and the wisdom and experience that come with it are worth something. It’s worthy of their respect and that respect should be reflected in what they call you.
It’s Good for Them
Three years ago, my family and I made a hasty and unwise decision to adopt a puppy. We had a couple of cats so we figured adding a dog into that mix would be no problem.
Boy, were we wrong.
This puppy disrupted everything in our household. She was a menace and honestly, the experience was so challenging that I would come home daily to my wife crying because of something the dog was getting into. We just had no idea what we were doing and didn’t understand how to relate to our new dog.
Long story short, we finally realized that we needed help and hired a trainer. The trainer basically told us that we need to have discipline, structure, and boundaries in order to have a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted puppy. Our puppy needed to know someone other than her was in charge.
Then it dawned on me: that’s just like raising a kid! Well, not exactly like raising a kid but there are parallel concepts.
Titles of authority and respect have a way of reinforcing those boundaries and creating the structure our kids need…
Where am I going with this? The point I’m trying to make is that those three things — discipline, structure, and boundaries — are important not only in the development of stubborn puppies, but also children. There’s a sense of safety that comes from knowing that there’s someone who’s in charge looking out for them.
Titles of authority and respect have a way of reinforcing boundaries and creating the structure our kids need, especially when we properly exercise our influence and instruction through those titles.
The other good thing is that it gives our children something to aspire to. There’s a dignifying responsibility that comes with age and the roles and titles that come with it. I’d like to think that I’m giving my kids something to look forward to when they can lead and be responsible for others and be addressed as “mister”.
It’s Good for You
Being addressed respectfully reminds you who you are. Okay, you may scoff at that, saying: I don’t need someone to call me “mister” in order for me to know who I am.
Alright, maybe you don’t. But consider this: do you think that a general responds differently to his job considering that people call him by that title? What about a president? Do you think a president thinks twice about the decisions he makes based on his title?
It reminds me that I need to conduct myself in a way that I would feel proud to see any of my kids emulating.
We cannot downplay the value and power of words. The old “sticks and stones” rhyme gets it wrong: names do hurt. But just as names hurt, the right names empower. They remind us of who we are and the important roles we play.
When any of my young kids addresses me by “mister”, it reminds me that I’m a role model in their lives; that I’m someone that they’re looking to for leadership and guidance. Those are two things I can never lose sight of as to their importance.
Being addressed as “Mr. Andrade” reminds me that I need to conduct myself in a way that I would feel proud to see any of my kids emulating. That’s something that’s not only good for my kids but it’s good for me, too.
You’re Not Young Anymore. That’s A Good Thing
Do I feel like an old guy when I tell kids to address me as “Mr. Andrade”? You bet.
But it’s true: I am an old guy, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. I’m in a different time of my life where God has now given me the blessing and the responsibility of stewarding younger kids and it’s important for them to know and respect where God has placed me.
Decorum may be out of style in our current culture, but the names we call each other matters. They serve as symbols for some important beliefs. Those beliefs are the value of elderly wisdom and authority. Something, if you ask me, our culture needs to be reacquainted with.
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