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Mind Your Mobile Manners

Respect for others is the foundation of good relationships.

The holidays are an ideal time for lessons in politeness. Parents often seize the occasion to teach kids how to sit at the table without fidgeting or how to be gracious about less than desired gifts. This year many families will find themselves at odds about mobile manners. Will cellphones be welcome at the holiday feast? When is it okay to accept an interruption from a call or a text message?

Before You Can Teach Mobile Manners To Your Kids, Think This Through For Yourself.

Good manners create strong social connections by putting other people at ease and making it clear that you value your relationship with them. With that in mind, here are some guidelines that may make it easier to raise kids who know when and how to use interactive devices — not only during the holidays but throughout the year.  

Face To Face Comes First.

Talking or texting with someone other than the people you are with suggests you don’t care much about spending time with those people. During family occasions, encourage everyone to set up a festive away message and then stash the cellphone in another room. If necessary, coach your child in the basics of polite conversation: Make eye contact, ask questions, listen attentively. Teach her how to excuse herself if there’s a mobile message that needs immediate attention.

Learning to give the person in front of you your full attention creates an advantage for your child if only because it’s a form of courtesy that’s becoming less common.

Choose The Right Medium For The Message.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that young people prefer text messages to phone calls. Help your child understand that texts are ideal for informal communication but, because these messages often fail to communicate emotion, it shouldn’t be used to say something that might be upsetting to the other person. Disagreements, in particular, should be handled face to face whenever possible. 

Be Responsive.

Even though kids shouldn’t be tethered to their cellphones, they should extend courtesy to those who call or text. Establish rules about how quickly you expect your child to respond to messages from you and try not to send messages when you know your child can’t or shouldn’t reply. Encourage your child to be prompt about responding to messages from other people, including messages they receive by mistake. It’s simple courtesy to send a text saying, “This message was sent to me by accident.”

Think About The Needs Of Friends.

Young people often assume that because they are texting, others should respond instantly. Talk to your child about being considerate. It’s good manners to inquire about when a friend is available so you won’t call or text during important events such as a worship service or a family meal. Mobile devices should also have a curfew so messages won’t disrupt another person’s sleep. 

Remind your child that the manners that work well in real life should also be applied to text messages. If you would say please or thank you in conversation, do so when texting. If cursing is inappropriate in person, then it is inappropriate when texting. Using a cellphone to spread gossip, trash reputations, or bully others is as wrong as doing those things in person. Being considerate of others means avoiding messages that will get a friend in trouble.

Think About The Needs Of Strangers.

Mobile devices allow people to carry on their private business in public spaces. This isn’t necessarily rude unless it interferes with what others are doing. Teach your child to be aware of how his or her cellphone use is impacting others. Ringtones, for example, should not be shocking, offensive, or annoying to others. When asked to turn off a cellphone during a concert, movie, or service, do it. Even the light from a tiny screen can be distracting to others.

Coach your child to avoid talking on a cellphone in settings such as elevators or restaurants where others will overhear the conversation. And don’t inconvenience people in stores or restaurants, by asking them to wait until you’re done talking. Better to postpone the call or text until your child is truly free. 

Safety First.

Using an electronic device should never create a safety hazard. Teach your child to give full attention to complicated tasks such as driving or cooking.

Like most rules, these will be easier to enforce if you model the manners you expect from your child. For example, when spending time together — at the dinner table, in the car, at the grocery store — show respect for your child by turning off your own phone. Remember, too, that the rules about how mobile devices should be integrated into our lives are still evolving. Just be sure to start from the premise that underlies all good manners — respect for others is the foundation of good relationships regardless of how people communicate.

— Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing about families and the Internet for 15 years. She is the mother of three computer-savvy kids. To read more, go to    


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