Thursday, July 09, 2009

"Do you have a cell phone?"

That's the question my boy was asked by another boy he met at soccer camp this week. I guess they hit it off and this kid wanted to pursue a friendship after camp was over. (I could be guessing wrong but that's all I can surmise. Maybe he just wanted to compare phones.)

Afterward I thought it was an odd question. How about "can I get your phone number so maybe we can get together sometime?" Or something similar, in pre-teen-speak.

But this was specific to my boy's own cell phone. When he said no, the other boy didn't respond. So mine said "see you tomorrow." Now my kid isn't a genius when it comes to social skills, so he didn't think to say something like "no, but we have a phone. Do you want our number?" Maybe he wasn't sure if that would be OK with me. This is new territory, meeting potential friends outside of church, scouts, or the family.

Later on, I was talking to a friend about her teen son's personal cell phone use. They had made him leave it home during a social event, and her son, she said, was suffering from withdrawal. He was just very uncomfortable without access to his friends. She also commented vaguely about the cost of all his texting and their need for a new phone plan.

I thought, but didn't say, that a new phone plan wasn't on the top of her needs list.

Now I am very happy to have a cell phone, and we have been thinking of getting another one for the kids to take when they're away from us. It is really nice to be able to get in touch with someone anytime. My kids aren't away from me or their dad enough, on a regular basis, for them to need one all the time. At a scout event, there's always a dad who will be happy to let a kid make a call. If they were in school, or otherwise frequently out and about unsupervised, sure, I'd get them one (though I'd prefer not to go the expense till it's necessary).

So I've been thinking about this fairly new social phenomenon of people having their own personal communication devices. If someone calls my cell phone, they can be pretty sure only I will answer. They won't have to hear an unfamiliar voice and ask for me. They will either speak to me, or to my voicemail. There's no awkward moment of not knowing exactly who has answered, or what to say to them, or how much small talk is expected.

Of course kids would much prefer to be able to contact their friends directly. I remember calling friends and feeling so awkward if the dad answered. I was an awkward kid anyway, but I'm sure not unique in that way. How nice it would have been for Eddie Haskell to call up Wally without having to chit-chat with Mrs. Cleaver first. And of course it's easier to cook up some trouble over the phone if it's likely that Mrs. Cleaver doesn't even know that Wally is talking to Eddie. Or texting him. From the privacy of the bedroom or the basement, not the kitchen where the house phone and mom are.

Yeah, I know, I'm stuck in the '60s.

Anyway, I wonder about the social skills of this generation who never has to endure the torment of saying "Hello, Mrs. Cleaver, this is Eddie. May I please speak to Wally?"


G said...

I don't want my kids having cell phones until they are much older, or it otherwise becomes somehow necessary.

And yes, I teach them telephone etiquette... not quite sure they get it some days, but I try! Mybe I am stuck in the past too ;)

Jeanette said...

When my son asks when can he have a cell phone I tell him when he is old enough to pay for it himself.

I think it is appalling the way teens (and younger) spend hours texting without even speaking to a live person. A lot can go on in the texting that mom and dad have no clue about.