There’s a new word out there – netiquette – and it’s about manners in our tech obsessed world. On this topic, I wrote a recent A Dad’s Point-of-View column, called, When Is Rude, Rude? inspired by an incident that took place in our home. It’s a perfect subject for another Boomer Parenting Tips article and I expect it won’t be the last one on this evolving and oh-so-interesting change in etiquette and manners in our society.
A young couple came over with their parents, all friends of ours, and couldn’t stop using their so-called smart phones throughout the dinner and evening. I gently asked them to stop and they did, for a brief while, but then resumed somewhat surreptitiously, in their laps…like kids cheating on an exam.
It was funny if it weren’t so rude and annoying! The parents of the young man didn’t say a word and I chose, wisely or not depending on your point-of-view, to let it go. I also chose not to let what I perceived as their rudeness ruin an otherwise lovely evening or to affect my friendship with all of them.
But, it got me to thinking about Tech Manners and how we as parents should teach our children proper manners in this technology-dominated world we now live in. A good friend of Boomer Tech Talk is Julie Spira, noted writer, speaker, and Internet Dating expert and author of the upcoming release, “The Rules of Netiquette: How to Mind Your Manners on the Web.” Julie has this to say about this phenomenon, “Unless you’re waiting for a phone call from the President of the United States or a liver transplant, put your mobile phone in your purse or pocket. It’s not an accessory and in social situations, not only is it distracting, but it sends the message that those in your presence aren’t as important as those in your digital world.”
Shawn Marie Edgington, author of Read Between the Lines: A Humorous Guide to Texting with Simplicity and Style has a lot of insight and wisdom on why and how texting is so important to our kids. Here are just a few very smart quotes/excerpts from her book:
“Generation Text (the term Shawn used for tweens and teens who text) uses text communication as an important part of their daily life. They want to be heard and understood on their own level and in their own preferred way. Teens feel that if they don’t have their phone in their hand or in their pocket, they’re completely disconnected and out of their communication loop.”
“Most teens keep their phones on vibrate or silent, which means they don’t hear their cell phone ring when they receive a call. If you’re relying on e-mail to be the window into your favorite teen’s world, or if you’re thinking that if you call them they’ll pick up, you haven’t been given the 411 on teen communication.”
“The unwritten code of conduct for teenagers is to answer every text message within second of receiving it. Only when they’re in the shower, in the classroom….or pining for their phone while it’s visiting parental jail, would they willingly violate this teen text code.”
While what Shawn has to say offers some explanation for this new phenomenon, it still doesn’t assuage the reactions from our Boomer Generation as the many comments made on my “When Is Rude, Rude?” column reflect. The comments were universal in their strong feeling that in my own home I had every right to ask anyone and everyone there to abide by our house rules. Some people were downright indignant that I didn’t press the issue further. I still feel the friendship trumped being right or enforcing rules such as these which, at the time, I did not think were that big a deal.
Nonetheless, I believe it’s incumbent on parents to teach their children good manners altogether, model the behavior they expect from their children, and in this specific area, I offer the following tips:
1. Meal Time is NOT the time for using ANY mobile device. No exceptions. Keep a basket for anyone and everyone present to put their cell-phones in – after they’ve turned them off. In this regard, I think it is no different than the by now ubiquitous reminders we hear about this at movie theaters.
2. Meal Time is also NOT a time to have on a television unless there is extremely breaking news going on. Frankly, I would suggest there be no television in the dining areas of every home.
3. During other family time, outings, and time in the car, each family should determine the acceptability of cell-phone or other mobile tech device use. I think for kids to loudly talk on their cell phones in the presence of other friends and family, in a car, is just rude and ultimately makes their conversation everyone’s conversation.
4. An extension of this suggestion or tip is to take your cell-phone calls to an isolated place so others do not have to hear, wanted or otherwise, your personal business. Let’s be honest, almost everyone seems to speak louder than they need to on their cell-phones, especially us boomers who are denying the fact that our hearing isn’t as good as it used to be.
5. Given the portability of iPads and other notebook-type tech devices, e-readers, games, etc., the opportunity for our children to carry a war-chest of tech toys is inevitable. Again, when and how they are used and displayed is a highly personal family choice. For instance, my younger son is an avid reader and takes his Kindle everywhere we go. However, unless I’m listening to the radio or otherwise uninterested in interacting with him, he knows that reading his Kindle while we’re alone together going somewhere is not okay. If there’s a question, he asks. I suggest that is the best policy. When in doubt as to its appropriateness, a child should be taught to ask if it’s okay to use one of their many mobile tech devices.
6. While this tip is not specific to “Tech Manners,” it is essential to all parents. Discuss what rules you want to set with your spouse or partner and agree. Then, present the rules to the kids. ALWAYS be on the same page and don’t make ANY changes without consulting your spouse or partner.
7. An innocuous way of being sure your own family and/or guests are not going online, at least via your wireless in your house, is to simply turn off the wireless router at designated times as your House Rule.
8. Per Shawn Marie Edgington, “Take Charge, Create Text Balance.” Simply, this means parents must and should set some limits on their children’s text activity. This applies to all tech and I truly believe every kid should be required to spend an equal amount of time doing a physical activity outside as they spend with any tech device.
Tech manners are like technology itself. It is evolving at a very fast pace. When movie theaters first showed commercials gently asking moviegoers to silence their phones, it was before texting existed. Now, they’ve added texting to the commercials because of their equal distraction to others close-by.
The same holds true for your house. You may have to figure it out a bit as you go. “No worries,” as the kids say because quite frankly, all parenting is a bit of learning on the fly.
You can pre-order my new book, A Dad’s Point of View: We ARE Half the Equation at the Store at BruceSallan.com. The book will be published later this month, just in time for Father’s Day. Get it for the dad in your life, the mom who wants her husband to be the best dad, or for yourself.