A few weeks ago, an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Danielle Larkins asked, “What happened to kids addressing adults by their last names?” In the piece, which sparked a predictable Internet frenzy, the exasperated writer wondered what was behind this trend. “In most circles I am introduced to children as Ms. Danielle. What ever happened to Mrs. Larkins? Did my last name escape my womb along with my child?” she writes. “Has our culture lost its respect for its elders? Have we just become a more informal society? Or maybe our desire to elevate our kids’ self-worth has gone overboard, and we don’t want our kids to feel they are ‘beneath’ anyone else.”
I’m not all that interested in what kids call adults, because I think the answer is largely innocuous: Yes, we’ve become a more informal society (although it can vary by region, with the South and the Midwest skewing more formal).
I’m not talking about the gold standards of “please” and “thank you,” though those are obviously a must.
I’m talking about a pair of other words so simple, you might have overlooked them entirely: “hello” and “goodbye.” Whether they’re tossing off a “good morning,” a “hi” or a “good to see you,” any kid age 3 and older should be able to greet adults when they first see them, and say goodbye to them when they leave. It won’t come automatically to them, but it’s an issue worth forcing. Every time. Until it becomes routine and automatic.
Why am I such a greeting cop? Well, because greetings provide the necessary framework for interaction. Ignore them, and you’re off to an uneasy start.
Imagine walking into a business meeting without greeting the other people in the room, but instead simply launching into the topics on the agenda. It probably wouldn’t go well, because your colleagues would still be pondering the fact that you didn’t acknowledge them when you entered.
That’s because a greeting is more than just a “hello” — it’s bearing witness, a sign of respect that says, “Hey, I see you. I acknowledge you as a person, that we’re co-existing in this space on this particular day together, regardless of what our long-term relationship might be.”
For kids, being able to say “hello” and “goodbye” means they aren’t allowed to exist solely in Kid World, where the main players are other kids and adults exist only to provide food and transportation. It’s a way to introduce children to the idea that they don’t get to just do their own thing on their own terms — that there are expectations of them.
Turns out the French are also huge fans of the “bonjour” and “au revoir” for all: Pamela Druckerman devotes a few pages to it in her controversial book “Bringing Up Bébé,” a parenting memoir about child-rearing in France. “The child greets, therefore he is,” writes Druckerman. “Just as any adult who walks into my house has to acknowledge me, any child who walks in must acknowledge me, too . . . Making kids say ‘bonjour’ isn’t just for the benefit of the grown-ups. It’s also to help kids learn they’re not the only ones with feelings and needs.”
We’ll give a “hello, yes” to that.