Your 13-year-old walks in the door from school. You ask how she’s doing, then realize she’s on her cell phone. The phone conversation continues, followed by another and by the time the night is over you’ve barely gotten a word in. Sound familiar?
Cindy Post Senning, great-granddaughter of manners guru Emily Post, says it’s a familiar situation for parents. Using her background in etiquette and her doctorate in education, Post offers this advice for teaching your child cell phone manners:
Start out small. Post suggests parents give their children cell phones as a safety measure as soon as they start to participate in activities on their own, usually around middle school. Explain to them that the cell phone is for safety, not long phone calls with their friends.
Know what to expect, then expect it. Post suggests parents set limits on cell phone usage. Consider creating “no-call zones” in certain locations, like the car, or reserving a time, like dinner, when no one in the family can use their cell phones. “Different families will have different limits. The important thing is for parents to be clear on the limits that are negotiable and those that are not negotiable,” she says.
Follow The Golden Rule of Parenting. Parents should always behave as they want their kids to behave, Post says. Though it may be tempting to talk on the phone while in the grocery store check-out line, think about what that teaches your children.
Teach responsibility. When it comes to the bill, Post encourages parents to negotiate a cap on their child’s minutes. “We need to help our kids learn how to make choices and set structures,” she says.
Make it relevant. Post suggests putting issues of etiquette into context for kids, “I ask them how they would feel if they had a hard day at school and when they get home their brother is yacking away on the cell phone." She says kids, especially those in middle school, have an intimate understanding of what it feels like to be excluded--one of the key issues with cell phone use. When they're given the opportunity to reflect on how they wish to be treated, kids are more willing to make changes in their own behavior, Post says.
Give kids the reasons behind the rules. If your child’s constant cell phone use is putting a strain on your relationship, explain that to them. “Tell them, ‘I really am curious to see how your day went and I know you want to tell your friend about it, but let’s set some times when we can talk’,” Post says.
Post offers more guidelines in her newest book out this fall, Teen Manners: From Malls to Meals to Messaging and Beyond, a guide for 15-18 year olds.
Post said it’s important for parents to realize that “teen manners” is not an oxymoron. “Etiquette is all about relationships and that topic has really resonated for kids,” she says.
So, next time your daughter comes home with the cell phone glued to her ear, don't let good manners get put on hold. Enforce some call waiting.
Cindy Post Senning, Ed.D., is author of the new book Teen Manners: From Meals to Messaging and Beyond, which will be released by Harper Collins this Fall. She is the great-granddaughter of manners maven Emily Post, and director and spokesperson for The Emily Post Institute. Her newest book for children, Emily’s Everyday Manners, (August 2006, HarperCollins Children) was co-authored with Peggy Post and incorporates humor and colorful illustration to create a book designed specifically for children ages 4-7.