If you’re a parent, are you teaching teens to use the phone?
By this, I don’t mean teaching your kids to play games, text or watch TikTok on their mobile phone. Most kids I know don’t have any issues in this regard.
Many of us teach our children the mechanics of using a phone when they are small. Here’s how to turn it on, here’s how to dial home, or 999. But how many of us are teaching our teenagers about using the phone?
Setting a Bad Example
As adults, I think many of us are not teaching kids to use the phone – because we don’t like using it ourselves!
I took a straw poll on Twitter last week and about 90% of people who expressed a view said that they actively avoid using the phone. Some followers, like Donna and Helen, say they don’t enjoy using the phone. Others, like Jane, admit that they suffer anxiety and a near-phobia when they need to use the phone.
Friends, this is not a good development.
Sure, much of modern life can be conducted at one remove. You can chat to people on Whatsapp, do networking on LinkedIn. You can request a prescription online, and book cinema tickets. It’s convenient. It’s easy.
But is it healthy?
I think many of us are far too reliant on “safe” indirect communication. We avoid the phone because it’s quicker to send a text, you don’t get caught up in small talk, you don’t risk saying the wrong thing and being embarrassed.
The problem with this comfort zone is that our social skills can easily slip if we don’t use them often enough. We can even get to a point where using the phone to have a direct conversation becomes a source of stress and anxiety.
It’s not good for us, because we become de-skilled, and isolated. And it’s not good for kids. Especially at a time when our teens are experiencing long periods of isolation due to lockdown and quarantines. Isn’t it more important than ever to give teens the skills and tools to feel connected?
Teaching Teens to talk on the Phone
The ability to speak on the phone is as much a life skill as cooking dinner, or opening a bank account. When parents are avoiding the phone like the plague, we are NOT giving our kids this important life skill.
As functioning adults, we need to be able to hold professional conversations over the phone. On a personal level, too, phone calls help us feel more connected to other people, build relationships and generally make life easier.
Phone calls help kids to learn the skills of conversation. It’s about learning to ask questions, to actively listen to answers and understand the social cues of a conversation. It’s learning the importance of paying attention, focusing on other people and learning to understand and judge things like tone of voice.
I can’t think of a skill that’s more important than the ability to make conversation, and communicate effectively. When it comes to the phone, there are basic rules about how we converse. It’s important for teens to know how to ask for the right person, how to introduce themselves, how to be concise and polite. If we let our kids communicate solely via text, they’re liable to end up being awkward and nervous when using the phone.
When we avoid using the phone to talk to people, we lose the knack of being able to chat with people. And it’s a really important skill for teens to learn, for so many reasons:
Work: While it’s possible to do business mostly over email and online platforms, successful people at work know that you can build a far better rapport with a potential client or employer over the phone. It saves time, too. Making one phone call to a client means you’re less likely to end up with misunderstandings, rather than sending 30 emails back and forth.
Conflict Resolution: If someone is frustrated, then 99 times out of 100, the problem will be resolved more quickly over the phone. It’s easier to make a genuine apology over the phone. In a work setting, if someone is frustrated, they just want to be heard, and know that you want to help. That’s far easier and more effective over the phone.
Friends: It’s great to connect with people on social media but making true friendships is easier if you actually talk to people. My Internet friend Laura is someone I rarely see in person. But because we make a point to chat on the phone every month or so, I’m familiar with the small talk in her life – what her kids are doing, that conversation she had with a client at work, how her house improvements are coming along. I regularly make time to FaceTime with my friend Jen, and our connection is that much stronger because we have those kind of rambling conversations where things pop into your head to share, or you can offer a supportive listening ear about a problem or frustration a friend is facing.
Life Admin: Sometimes, navigating a poorly designed website on a mobile phone is a MASSIVE time suck. Wouldn’t it just be easier to call and make an appointment at the hair salon, or change your dentist appointment? If we help kids to be confident on the phone, many things in life will just be EASIER for them.
How to Help Teens be Confident on the Phone
The most important thing we can do to help teens be confident on the phone is to let them practice. I regularly encourage my teen to place the order for our Chinese takeaway over the phone. I make her call to make her own appointments at the dentist or hairdresser.
I also encourage Flea to share news with her Dad and grandparents over the phone NOT by text. Text messages tend to be planned and filtered, but actually it’s far nicer for Flea’s family to hear her telling him about her hockey match or good test result. And it does Flea good to experience that happiness ‘live’!
Have your kids learn to take messages. Not only will it make YOUR life easier, but it helps them to develop memory, attention to detail and conversation skills. Remind them to ask who is calling, what the message is they want to leave, and when/where they will be around if you need to return their call.
Also, try to talk to your teens about the etiquette of phone use. Basic stuff like – don’t take a phone call at the dinner table. Don’t have personal conversations in public places. Keep the volume down when speaking on a mobile phone in public.
Lastly, try and model a healthy, confident approach to the phone yourself. As parents, we are important role models to our kids. If they see us being nervous to call the doctor’s office, or trying to avoid answering phone calls from friends, then that’s exactly what they’ll think is normal and appropriate when it comes to their own conversations.
What do you think? Are you phone-phobic, and are you teaching your teens to use the phone?