Teaching Kids Cell Phone Etiquette

How to teach children to use cell phones responsibly and politely.

Q. I've decided to let my kids have cell phones, but I'm serious about making sure they use them not only responsibly, but also politely. What are the cell phone use ground rules I should be teaching them?

A. Before handing cell phones over to your children, ask them what rules of etiquette they believe should apply to cell phone use. Talk to them about rules for public situations and rules for social and family settings. Make your own list of rules.

To begin your discussion, use the following list regarding public places:

  • Not in libraries, movies, elevators, museums, cemeteries, theaters, dentist or doctor waiting rooms, places of worship, auditoriums, hospital emergency rooms, or public transportation.
  • Never during meetings or in restaurants.
  • No annoying ring tones.
  • Never when shopping, banking, waiting in line, or when conducting other personal business.
  • Never when driving.
  • Never talking when less than 10 feet from others present.

Regarding social or family situations, discuss with your kids:

  • When should an incoming call take priority over the situation at hand?
  • What if someone taking a call is just trying to impress others?
  • What would happen if everyone had unbridled use of their cell phones -- think of the chaos during dinner, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, or when watching a movie together.
  • Would it be okay to let incoming calls interrupt conversations regarding values, discipline, or when reviewing the family calendar?

To Answer or Not to Answer

It's important to let your children know that when a person steps out of a social or familial situation to use a mobile phone, they keep themselves from experiencing the moment; cell phones can become a constant pending (and sometimes realized) distraction. With voice messaging, there's no need to take every call or even to check to see who's calling.

You'll need to teach your children to make a call by excusing himself or herself. When anticipating an important call, teach them to warn the people they're with that an important call will be coming in and, therefore, you'll need to step away to receive it.

Together develop cell phone protocol for inside your home. You might want to establish "quiet zones" and "phone-free" areas and times.

Are You Chatting in Front of the Kids?

Of course, you'll need to model appropriate mobile phone use; quality time with your kids does not count if you're on the phone. It's not okay to take your kids to the park or on a walk to spend your time yakking on the phone. One of the best times to talk with children (before they acquire their own licenses) is when driving in the car. If you're on your cell phone, how can you carry on a conversation with your child sitting next to you?

Technological changes lead to social change, but there's always a lag. While members of society are busy using cell phones, manners for doing so need to reflect this increased use. Most important, teach your child that having loud cell phone conversations in public or in your own home is simply rude. The convenience of cell phones has led many to become lazy and to lose awareness of themselves, others, and their surroundings: Try to avoid this phenomenon with your kids.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, August 2006.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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