Is Your Kid Telephone Challenged?

teens and mobile phonesHow many arguments did you get into with your parents growing up about not monopolizing the house phone? Call waiting was the greatest invention as far as my mom was concerned. I could no longer be oblivious to the fact that someone else might be trying to contact her while I was yapping to friends about nonsense. Parents and kids just don’t have those fights anymore. The busy signal has become virtually obsolete and since anyone and everyone has their own mobile phone, there is no need to quibble about whose call is more important. And while technology has eliminated that problem, it has created one far more severe. Those smartphones are creating a generation of socially awkward misfits that only know how to express themselves with their thumbs and not their mouths. I am shocked and somewhat dismayed by the inability of most teenagers to talk on the phone. I don’t want to pat myself on the back too much, but I have actually been able to get my daughter to talk to her friends on the phone and even call potential employers for summer job opportunities. I’m still working on it with my son, but it is definitely moving in the right direction.
Emails and texts undoubtedly have a very useful and important place in social circles. But like with everything else in life, the pendulum has swung way too far. Our kids are hiding behind texts and social media tools to express themselves instead of intellectually and emotionally challenging each other through verbal communication. We all know tone and intent is lost in texts and emails. Of course one can add the annoyingly silly emoticons to help convey sentiment in the written messages, but is that what our next generation has been reduced to? I have grown tired of seeing teenagers take cover behind their phone screens. It has become way too easy to shoot your mouth off without ever saying a word. Verbally spewing hurt and stupidity is a lot more difficult to do than to write it. And the bigger problem for kids long term, is that they never develop the appropriate filters of what to say, how to say it and who to say it to. They have become accustomed to having a blank writing canvas to communicate whatever is on their minds.
I cringe when I hear about boys asking girls out on dates via text. It’s pretty safe to say the break ups usually occur that way as well. Information gathering, whether it’s for school or social events, always seems to be via text. My daughter has gotten so much better about calling her friends to relay important information and details to me about social and educational activities. In the past, the conversation with my daughter went like this; “did you find out the info for ….” and she would say “yeah”. I would ask, “what did she say?” My daughter’s response was, “oh she texted me”. I said, “uh uh, call her up and find out everything that you know I want to know.” Now we no longer argue about it, she just does it. I’m not naive enough to think that texting as the primary means of communication is just temporary and I certainly do it enough myself. But we need to make sure that our kids are equipped with the ability to talk on the phone when the situations call for it. I’m afraid most teens just aren’t and just sound like bumbling buffoons when forced to do it. So what can you do to help prepare them?
1) As a parent, refuse to communicate with your own child via text. If they need to tell you something or vice versa, force them to talk to you on the phone.
2) Have your child call a relative, grandparent for distant friend at least once per week.
3) Next time your child wants to be taken to a store for something special, make him or her call the place first to find out the hours they are open and if they have the desired item in stock.
4) If going out for a family dinner and need a reservation, have your kid call the restaurant to make it. And no, do not allow them to go on Open Table.
5) Do not allow your kids to text while they are driving as passengers in the car with you. Tell them they are allowed to communicate with their friends, but only by phone.
6) Next time a telemarketer calls your house, force your kid to answer it and talk to the person on the other line. Tell your kid that you are too busy to take the call but that you are actually interested in what the telemarketer might be offering.
7) Encourage the use of FaceTime, Skype and other forms of communication that actually require talking to and seeing the person live.
8) Have your child call someone he or she knows when the time is appropriate, to either offer congratulations for a happy occasion, or extend their condolences or sympathies for something sad or unfortunate.
9) Have your child call someone for directions. “Can’t you just use GPS? ” will most certainly come right back at you. Be strong and insist that it doesn’t work.
10) And finally, I can’t believe I would suggest this. I will deny it if anyone ever asks me if I actually recommended it. Give your kid the okay to make a prank phone call once in a while. The call should be harmless and in good fun where the only thing that was lost was a person’s time. But the prank can’t be a ring and hang up. It has to be well thought out dialogue that wants the person on the other side of the line to feel compelled to stay on the line. By the way, you probably will do just fine with the first 9 tips suggested, but since top ten lists are so big, we threw this one in here.
If you have some tricks of your own to get your kid on the phone instead of texting, by all means, do whatever it takes. We as a society need to get the gift of gab back and the only way that will ever be done is with practice.