The Telephone


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


Is the family phone the source of problems in your home? You are not alone. Many parents report that their little children wait until they are on the phone to act up and teenagers believe that the family phone is their personal property. This article will attempt to provide suggestions to battle weary parents who would like to address the issue of phone use by children. Here are some concepts to keep in mind as you formulate your “plan” to control phone usage.

1.    Don’t get talked into the idea that because we live in a world of modern conveniences that phone even cell phone use is somehow different then other available methods of communication such as letter writing, e-mail, talking over the back fence, etc.

2.    An important principle to keep in mind when discussing this issue with family members is that the person who pays for the phone service controls the use of the phone or phones.

3.    Access to the home phone or cell phone by children is not a right. It is a privilege and as such its use can be removed and/or controlled. A child who does not have phone privileges will not be emotionally harmed. There are other alternatives to using the phone that are available to the child that the child can afford.

4.    The house phone is a service that needs to be available to family members who have a need for the phone. As a result, long conversations or inter-net usage is not acceptable and needs to be controlled if a child has not yet developed the capacity to consider the rights of others.

5.    Being provided with a personal cell phone is not the right of a child. Each family will have to decide when a cell phone for the child is necessary.

Keeping these concepts in mind here are some ideas on how to handle some typical teenage "telephone" problems.

Idea #1 - If you have one phone line and you do not have call waiting you may want to implement the 10-minute rule. The ten-minute rule requires that teenagers who want to make or receive calls on your phone have a ten-minute limit. At the end of ten minutes they must hang up and wait at least another ten minutes before they are allowed to "warm" the phone again. The logic behind this rule is that the phone remains the communication tool the parent is paying for by allowing 10-minute windows of access.

Idea #2 - If you have one phone line and have call waiting you may want to implement the "phone answering service" rule.  Parents who are on the phone and receive a call for a teenager act as a phone answering service by taking the name and number of the person calling and putting this information in an “answering service book” for the teenager to return the call when the phone is no longer in use by the parents. Teenagers who are on the phone and receive a call waiting call act as an answering service and call the parent to the phone for the call. The teenager will then end the call they are on and let the friend they are talking to know that there is a call for the parents. The reasoning behind this rule is that the phone is the parent's phone and the child, who chooses to uses the phone wisely, is given controlled access the phone.

Idea #3 - For those teenagers who have a job or source of money and feel like they need the convenience of their own phone line, a private line, or personal cell phone might be in order. If this is the case the teenager should be taught the proper phone etiquette and make all the arrangements for the services themselves with only the parents coaching/guidance.

If this idea is used parents should never pay for the phone service. The teenager who wants this convince should be responsible enough to take care of the bills themselves.

In addition to these ideas here are some practical things that may be of help when establishing your family “controls” regarding phone usage:

·        Long distance phone blocks can be put on the home phone lines, if necessary, to assure control of your phone.

·        800 numbers can be purchased and given to children living away from home to assure communication with you at all times. (You could also obtain a calling card for a child traveling away from home.  Some of these come with a pre-paid option.)

·        Beepers, cell phones, portable phones, etc. are another way to communicate. Choosing alternative ways of communicating that you control may be a choice. But if you have a belligerent teenager make sure that, when deciding on an alternative, that the alternative method of communication is under your control.

·        It is not easy to discuss phone usage with an angry or upset teenager.

·        This last recommendation is the most important of all. Keep your cool. Do not resort to arguing or trying to convince a belligerent teenager that there is a reason for your decisions regarding phone usage. Just keep this little idea in the back of your mind and remain calm. The person who pays the phone bill is the one who determines how the phone is used.