Hayden Mathais, a blond eighth grader taps the FaceTime icon on her phone and says, “Oh, hey Dave” to the face on her screen. The Wall Street journalist interviewing her wonders if Dave is her boyfriend or biology partner. It turns out he’s Hayden’s 47-year-old father.

Hayden isn’t the only one who has abandoned the traditional Mom and Dad title in favor of calling their parents by their names.

Therapists analyzing why this is happening respond that some parents have given up the feeling of authority in their homes while others are being mocked by their sons and daughters in a culture filled with sarcasm. Using first names and saying “Good going, Michael” or “Great driving, Laura” creates an atmosphere of cynicism and makes a child feel powerful. One 23-year-old interviewed calls out “Good boy, Jay” to her venture capitalist father when he lands a great parking spot or answers a question about a rock band correctly. She’s been calling her parents by their first names since she was 17. “In our house, we kids kind of run the show. I guess it has something to do with that.”

Teens have always tested boundaries, but in today’s world our children have grown up with moms and dads who want to be their BFF’s. Hoping to develop a relationship where children like us even on Facebook has created an environment of overly permissive parenting. Acting like a father or mother forces us to curtail unwelcome behaviors and impose unwanted limits. It’s wearying and not always fun. Many parents would rather be buddies and not deal with the discipline and consequences. We also have a disdain for ‘growing old’ and feeling old. We don’t want to look older, act older or even seem older. If kids call us by our first names we somehow feel as if we are young and ignore the feelings of approaching middle age.

A Jewish Response

How should we respond to this type of behavior?

Honor and respect are basic foundations of family life. As parents we are responsible for setting standards of behavior in our home. Some behaviors are acceptable and others are never even up for discussion. We call this ‘derech eretz’ – a spiritual standard of living. We establish a fundamental quality of life by which we exist. Derech Eretz has guided us through the centuries and never becomes old fashioned or outdated. “Honor your father and mother” never goes out of style.

In a culture that invites disrespect, how can we create a home that embodies good character, ethics, and a strong sense of values?

Judaism has given us tools and guidelines to help us create an atmosphere of respect. It is up to us to take the lead and make sure we teach our children that this is how we live. According to Jewish law children cannot call parents or grandparents by their first name. Period.

It is considered simply unacceptable. So is sitting in a parent’s chair without permission, saying ‘No!” and walking out on a parent, or taking parent’s clothing and money without asking and just assuming it’s okay. Our children need to honor us. Not because we crave admiration or obedience. But rather because respect is a crucial ingredient as we parent our children, transmit our values, teach discipline and consequences, and create a legacy to live by. When children honor their parents they are accepting us as their life guides.

Dad! Dad! Dave!

The WSJ article gives the reason why Hayden calls her father Dave. It was not a power struggle, test of authority, or desire for friendship. All this eighth grader wanted was to catch her father’s attention. “He honestly doesn’t answer to Dad,” she explains. “I say ‘Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad,’ and then I say ’Dave’ and he pops up. Now I can’t help it.” Hayden gives a picture of her home life. She relates that her father is “extremely busy,” adding that he often travels for work and spends his weekend’s home trying to juggle his three children’s sports activities. Dave acknowledges that he is a distracted dad. He is also content with his daughter’s first name basis. “I’m just glad she can get through to me” is the way this father sees the situation.

I see it as sad.

Have we come to the point that the only way a child can reach her distracted father is by calling his name? Does hearing the word ‘Dad’ not even mean anything?

I am reminded of the following story:

A 9-year-old child met his father at the door one evening as he returned from work. He asked him how much he makes an hour.

“What kind of crazy question is that?”

The child persisted and would not give up; he was sent to his room.

After some time, Mom and Dad knocked on their son’s door. They found him sobbing silently on his pillow. His mother stroked his sweaty forehead while his father sat beside him and tried to figure out what happened.

The child took a deep breath.

“Daddy, I never see you or talk to you anymore….I thought if maybe you could tell me how much you get in an hour….”

The boy pointed to an emptied piggy bank on his night table. “I just thought I could pay you for an hour of your time.”

Mom and Dad looked at each other and turned away in shame.

We need to get in touch with what matters most. Our mission is to create a home built on genuine love, respect, honor and dignity –and to know that we cannot do this by lowering our standards of parenting and trying to be best buddies. Rather, we connect through giving our time, our listening ear and establishing the spiritual standards of living that teach children the true definition of parenting.