By 2008, nearly 80% of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 had a cell phone. At this writing, based on the rate of increase, it’s a fairly safe bet that percentage is now 99.9% (allowing, of course, for that handful of children raised by wolves or gorillas and such—hey, it happens).

With cell phones, as with great power, comes great responsibility. If you haven’t already spoken with your children about when and when not to text, here are some ideas for having a productive conversation about cell phone etiquette (yep, there’s etiquette for everything).


Of course there are the obvious topics: don’t text and drive, turn your phone off in a movie theater (or at least switch it to vibrate—no, turn it off. Unless they have access to our nuclear football or can perform a specific surgical technique, every kid, tween, and teen can survive being off the grid for two hours while they watch the latest Hollywood fare.) But here are some others you might not have considered.

  1. Phone Free Times
    Establish periods of the day (meals and homework periods come to mind) where phones are not just silenced, but turned off. To drive the point home, designate a basket or bin where phones can be deposited and be physically (surgically, if necessary) removed from your child. If your child begins to sweat or hyperventilate, reassure them that voicemails and emails will wait for them. Want to drive the point home forcefully? Then put your cell phone in the bin during those times as well.
  1. Phone Tag Rules
    Like any good (or annoying) game, phone take has rules, too. Simply put, if you’ve been tagged twice, then opt out of the game. In other words, quit returning the call. If it’s really important, they’ll call back.
  1. Setting The Right Tone
    All digital communication has a particular language. With emails, ALL CAPS represents shouting (see how loud that sounded?) and is rude, unless you mean to yell. A phone’s ring tone can be impolite in pretty much the same way. Discuss with your children the selection of an appropriate tone. There’s no reason they can’t pick something that expresses their particular style or taste, but snippets from an offensive rap song or flatulence should be discouraged.
  1. Prioritizing Conversation
    No one wants to “talk to the hand”, and when you interrupt someone to answer your phone, that is exactly what you are telling them to do. Conversations should be ranked, with highest priority going to those you are face to face with. Remember, a phone ringing doesn’t not activate some portion of your brain, compelling you against your will to answer. It simply means someone wants to talk to you. Remind your children of the virtues of voicemail.

    In those situations where an important phone call is anticipated (e.g. A loved one in the hospital, news about an important job interview, etc.) simply inform whomever you’re with ahead of time about the call. Make a simple apology beforehand and, if and when the call comes, excuse yourself to another room or an acceptable distance away (typically a minimum of 10 feet).

  1. Phone Conversations are still Conversations
    OMG, even though we have emojis, basic conversational etiquette still applies. In other words, remember to use please and thank you and—even though the person you’re talking to isn’t physically in front of you—there’s no need to raise your voice, LOL.
  1. Protect Your Privacy
    Texts, like diamonds, are forever. Remember that phones are recording devices as much as they are phones. Any photos, texts, emails, even voice conversations could potentially be rebroadcast without your express written consent. So, if you absolutely have to say something sensitive (or insensitive), reconsider whether you should do so via a smart phone.