Cell phone etiquette

Carol Osborn is an early childhood educator and president of CAO Training Associates which offers workshops on parenting and early childhood education. She is the mother of six grown children and grandmother of thirteen.

Dear Carol,

How can I teach my teenage child good social and interpersonal skills with technology so often replacing face-to-face communication? For instance, my daughter sends text messages to friends who are in the same room or reads text messages while with friends and family. I find this rude, but she says it’s the way all her friends communicate. In addition, I think she might sometimes text to avoid difficult conversations, and I would like to help her develop the confidence and skills to communicate effectively.

This question really addresses how we teach teens to communicate appropriately and effectively. Certainly, advances in technology have changed some of the ways we interact, but communicating effectively has always been, and is still, a skill we learn from birth and continue to practice throughout our entire lives.

Reciprocal Communication Skills
When we communicate with babies, we talk to them in tones and use expressions that encourage a response, and then we pause to give them opportunity to respond back with their sighs and coos. This is the beginning of the reciprocal process of back and forth communication. As our children grow, these back and forth conversations increase in content and length.

How do you foster this back-and-forth communication and encourage your teen to use polite interpersonal communications, even as technology becomes a main communication channel?

The answer may be more in what you do, not in what you say. Your everyday actions-what you actually do in everyday situations, not just in talking with your teen-models behavior. Modeling good manners is the best way to foster positive social interactions and ones that you approve of as a parent. If you consider it rude to text during a family dinner or while with friends, then refrain from using your own cell phone during these times.

A Privilege, not a right
Having access to technology is not a right-it is a privilege. With all privileges come responsibilities. Before giving your child a cell phone, computer or iPod, have discussions about how and when they are to be used. That means setting clear guidelines and expectations for use.

Have conversations with your child about courteous behaviors before situations arise where you have to correct what you consider to be rude behavior.

Remember, conversations go two ways. Listen to your child. Acknowledge understanding of what she is saying. (Acknowledging that you understand does not mean you agree.) Share your thoughts and expectations for social behaviors as well as any logical consequences that would come when your child does not follow the family guidelines for technology use.

Stay true to values
Your child may say all her friends are doing this or that because peer pressure is often more compelling for children during the teen years than parental guidance. Keep in mind that this is about your family and your values, and asking your teen to adhere to family values and rules is part of your responsibility as a parent. Difficult Conversations

A second issue you raise refers to teaching your child techniques for interpersonal communication. Interpersonal skills, too, are a learned behavior and come with experience and maturity.

Even adults have difficulty facing a situation where they do not agree with a friend and have a hard time expressing their feelings. It’s natural to want to avoid uncomfortable situations, but facing them can also give us feelings of confidence and success.

Is it easier to refuse an invitation by email than in person? Of course, it is, especially if we think we will avoid a confrontation. On the other hand, it is also easier to be misunderstood, and confrontations can still arise.

Talk with your teen about the importance of communicating face-to-face and how it can help to strengthen relationships.

Technology is a fact of life
Texting and other electronic communications are central to how teens communicate. Your job as a parent is to help your teen learn to use these technologies in socially acceptable ways. Teaching your teen basic communication and interpersonal skills will help her to become a socially comfortable, confident and competent adult.

Do you have a parenting question that you’d like answered?
Email Carol Osborn at


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