Cell Phone Etiquette for Kids

How can I encourage my teens to combine cell phone use with a proper respect for others? In the beginning I was happy to provide my son and daughter with their own phones because I wanted to make sure that we could stay in touch at all times. More recently, however, I've become increasingly frustrated about the way their phones have begun to dominate their lives. The fascination of texting, calling, and accessing a thousand different phone apps seems to trump every other social interaction. We can be in the same room together, but when they're on their phones – which seems to be all the time – I feel as if I'm invisible. What can be done about this?

Unfortunately, the problems you’ve identified aren’t exclusive to teenagers. As you’ve probably noticed, lots of adults who ought to know better are exhibiting the same disturbing behavioral patterns. The sad truth is that manners, etiquette, and propriety haven’t kept pace with the explosion in technological innovation. It’s good to see someone raising questions about what we can do to remedy the situation.

Because there’s so much to learn about the technical aspects of manipulating smart phones and other electronic communications devices, very few people ever stop to ask how, why, when, whether, and under what circumstances they ought to be used. The idea that a cell phone is “a good thing to have in an emergency” has long been outdated. “Emergencies” are beside the point. To borrow a phrase from the title of a recent book on the subject, the unspoken assumption is that phones and phone-users are always on. Apparently no one has a right (let alone a reason) to seek a moment’s respite from the unrelenting demands of constant connection. This widespread assumption needs to be challenged. And we’d propose that parents can get the ball rolling by sitting down with their teens and giving them some badly needed formal instruction in the area of proper cell phone use.

This discussion would have nothing to do with megabytes, data plans, computer functions, Internet access, or phone apps. Instead, it would focus on timeless principles of decorum and dignity. It would emphasize the importance of respect, decency, privacy, confidentiality, and human relationships. It would underscore the point that, in any world actually worth living in, these timeless principles would have to be given top priority. They are far more important than such cyber-values as immediacy, speed, brevity, and facility of access.

As a parent, you can’t turn back the clock. Nor can you expect to rid your home of every technological influence. But that doesn’t mean that you have to allow yourselves to be defined by technological culture. If you have the courage, the patience, and the persistence, you can take the lead and do some of the defining yourself. You just have to be intentional about it.

Call the family together. Announce that some decisions need to be made concerning the etiquette of cell phone use. Talk about how it makes you feel to be ignored, interrupted, and shut out of your children’s lives by phone calls, text messages, and other forms of online communication. Give your teens a chance to share their own ideas and perspectives on this aspect of the problem. Emphasize the importance of face-to-face interaction. Make it clear that mutual respect is the irreplaceable foundation of healthy families and all human relationships.

Once you’ve had this conversation, try to come up with a family contract or covenant governing cell phone use for all members. Put this agreement in writing and post it on the refrigerator door. It will help if you can make your “rules” as specific as possible-for example, “All phones off during dinner” or “No texting or taking calls in the middle of a conversation.”

You can give your teens a philosophical foundation for these guidelines by stressing the importance of being present in the moment. Help them understand that they need to acknowledge the presence of friends and family members and respect the privacy, the dignity, the needs, and the wishes of other people. If it seems necessary and appropriate, remind your kids of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).

If you think it might be helpful to discuss these concepts at greater length, call our Counseling department for a free consultation. They’ll be happy to assist you in any way they can.


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