JANUARY 1, 2016 By Lori Tharps
It all started with that three-year old kid from the YouTube video. The one who kept telling Linda to “listen” while he was asking for cupcakes. It wasn’t until after little Mateo had his 15 minutes of fame and made it on to The Ellen Show that I realized Linda was Mateo’s mother.
When DeGeneres asked Linda why her three-year-old son called her by her first name, she said Mateo usually does call her mommy, but “when he’s serious and really wants to get his point across, we become Linda or Kenneth.”
The crowd laughed at that response and Linda got a spa vacation and the family got $10,000 for being awesome. But that’s not the point. The point is, after Mateo and Linda became Internet stars, a flurry of stories appeared, noting the uptick in children calling their parents by their first name. Most say Mateo didn’t start this trend.
Some psychologists believe the growing trend of kids calling their parents by their first name is a result of over-permissive parenting and isn’t so innocent. Kids who call their parents by their first names may be doing so because they see their parents more as friends instead of authority figures. That can be problematic when “friends” have to lay down the law.
Some kids, like Mateo, say calling their parents by their first name is a way to garner their attention.
I took an unofficial poll in one of my college classes and asked my students if any of them call parents by their first name. Only two out of about 18 raised their hands. One young woman said she started calling her mother by her first name around age 10 as a joke after her mother requested she stopped calling out “mommy, mommy mommy” every five minutes. The student responded with “OK, how about Karen, Karen Karen.” And it stuck.
A young man admitted he was testing boundaries when he was about 15 and started calling his parents by their first names whenever he was mad at them. They tried to get him to stop, but he never did and they gave up.
When I hear a kid calling their parents by their first time it strikes me as odd, especially if it’s a young child. I must be old school because to my ears hearing a child refer to a parent by their first name sounds disrespectful and a bit cold. When I enrolled my kids in Quaker schools — where all the children are instructed to address the teachers by their first name— it felt wrong. While I understand the Quaker philosophy behind this tradition, I still made my kids refer to their teachers with a Ms. in front of their first names.
As it turns out, most Americans are with me on this. A 2014 poll conducted by Parents.com indicated that 90.74 percent of respondents would not allow their kids to call them by their first name.
Some of the reasons people give for allowing, and sometimes even encouraging their kids to use their first names, seem quite practical. For example, one woman said she wanted her kids to call her by her first name so that if they ever got lost they would know their parents names to provide to authorities.
Other parents cite that in the case of divorce, having kids use first names instead of mom and dad can make the complicated dance around what to call step-parents less cumbersome and uncomfortable.
There’s a little boy at my daughter’s preschool who calls his mother by her first name — Amy. I asked Amy why her son did that and she said he just started calling her Amy when he was 18 months old.
“I didn’t correct him because he was pretty emphatic about it,” Amy said, noting that her son has always had a strong personality and also seemed fiercely independent since he was a baby.
Her son calls Amy’s husband “dad,” and their other son calls her “mama.”
So, even in the same family, one size doesn’t fit all. But what is clear is that a mother isn’t made by her name alone.