QUESTION: It seems to me that children are far too familiar - too informal - with adults today. When I was a kid, we always addressed grown ups by "Mr." or "Mrs." Or if they were in the family, we called them "uncle" or "aunt," or "Grandpa" or "Grandma". We would never have referred to an adult as Sam or Alice. But today's parents don't teach that courtesy to their children. Some of them introduce four-year-olds to adults by their first names. Am I the only one who is concerned about this? What can I do to counteract this trend with my own son and daughter?DR. DOBSON: I've been bothered by that same observation. It's a by-product of a cultural shift within society itself. We are less respectful of one another today in many ways. Fifty years ago, for example, men didn't curse around women and cultured women didn't curse at all. How that has changed! Both men and women used to address each other with formal titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss, etc.) unless they had become very close friends. Now, a waitress whom you've never met approaches your table and says, "Hi, I'm Stephanie and I'm going to be serving you today."
I don't suppose today's informality is harmful, although I agree that children should be taught to speak to their elders with certain deference. I still like to hear them respond with "Yes, Ma'am" and "No, sir," instead of "yeah," "yep" and "nope." When their manners are respectful, their entire demeanor is on a higher plane.
As for how you can instill these and other courtesies in your child, you simply make up your mind to do it. You might explain that there are many things your family does differently than others: For example, "We don't use bad language, we don't attend certain kinds of movies and we don't (fill in the blank)."
Why? Because we've set a higher standard for ourselves. This is what makes us unique as a family. Someday you will understand that, too.
QUESTION: I could use some advice about a minor problem we're having. Tim, my six-year-old son, loves to use silly names whenever he speaks to my husband and me. This past week it's been "You big Hot Dog." Nearly every time he sees me now he says, "Hi, Hot Dog." Before that, it was "Dummy," then "Moose" (after he studied M for moose in school). I know it's silly and it's not a huge problem, but it gets so annoying after such a long time. He's been doing this for a year now. How can we get him to talk to us with more respect, calling us mom and dad, instead of hot dog and moose?
DR. DOBSON: Ordinarily, it would not be a big deal for a child to use a playful name for his parent. But that isn't what appears to be happening with Tim. It sounds more like a classic power game to me. And contrary to what you said, it is not so insignificant. Your son is continuing to do something that he knows is irritating to you and your husband, yet you are unable to stop him. That is the issue. He has been using humor as a tactic of defiance for a full year.
It is time for you to sit down and have a quiet little talk with young Timothy. Tell him that he is being disrespectful, and that the next time he calls either you or his father a name of any kind he will be punished. You must then be prepared to deliver on the promise, because he will continue to challenge you until it ceases to be fun. That's the way he is made. If that response never comes, his insults will probably become more pronounced. Appeasement for a strong-willed child is an invitation to warfare. This is the time to deal with it.
Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the