Circa 1980, when a child complained, “I’m bored” a mother could suggest, “Well, why don’t you pick up the phone and call Mary?” And the child might actually pick up the phone, dial, and say something like, “Hello, this is Lisa. May I please speak to Mary? … Mary, would you like to come over and play this afternoon?” Hard to imagine in this day and age, but having heard her mother make countless invitations and other social arrangements by phone, this child of 1980 might indeed pull this behavior off. And many of us did.
Fast forward to now, 2011. Mary is probably off at her advanced Chinese tutorial, math boot camp, or her daily elite fencing team practice, but suppose Mary were home, what would today’s mother say? Would our children make such a phone call? Do they even know how to dial a telephone?
With shifting technology and the ascendancy of social media, our own adult social lives have become largely invisible to our children. Adults don’t use the phone for socializing, so our children have only rarely overheard an invitation extended, accepted, or politely declined. Instead, they see us tapping away at our iphones and blackberrys to make play dates, dinner dates, all manner of social plans. Since they’re not reading over our shoulders, they have no idea what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. There is little wonder, then, at the chaos that can erupt when children begin to chat, IM, text, or email. They have no idea what they are doing!
So really, its up to us, isn’t it? It’s up to us to teach them to make the call, to engage a friend over the phone, to begin to manage their own social lives. Some might argue that telephone use is becoming obsolete and the ability to communicate effectively and civilly by email, text, social media will be far more valuable in their adult lives. Probably true. But think of the phone as training wheels for those other modes of communication: helping them use the phone allows us to easily listen in, provide a few hints and nudges. Supervised interaction. They can and will move on. At the very least, phone manners will be more useful than the cursive, ball room dancing, or horseback riding, that many of us are already willing to encourage.