Mobile Etiquette? Who Cares?

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microsoft imagesby Lori Cunningham

We all care.  People misuse technology all the time and we are quick to point out how rude they are.  Once a cellphone rings and a person answers it, it’s like they are in another world — completely forgetting where they are and how loud they are talking.  It amazes me how tuned out a person can be when talking on their phone…and walking across the street!

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”  Emily Post

Anna Post, mobile etiquette, cellphone mannersAlthough people misuse technology, they still care about mobile etiquette.  I know I have been guilty of a few infringes  myself.  According to Anna Post, “When people stop caring about etiquette, that’s when we need to start worrying!”

I had the privilege of speaking to Anna Post, the great-great granddaughter of the famous Emily Post. Anna is also the co-author of Great Get-Togethers (William Morrow, 2010), and the author of Do I Have To Wear White? A modern etiquette expert, Anna covers topics ranging from green weddings and business etiquette to politics and pop culture. A regular contributor to Reuters and DailyWorth.com, Anna conducts business etiquette seminars across the country.

Recently, Intel Corporation sponsored a study on “Mobile Etiquette,” conducted by Ipsos to” gain insight into how parents and children use their mobile technology devices (laptops, netbooks, tablets, smartphones) and how those behaviors impact their relationships.” Anna Post joined Intel in deciphering the results.

Intel found that*:

  • 50% of children 8-12 years old report that they have two or more mobile devices.Mobile Etiquette Study
  • Nearly 1 in 5 children 8-12 years old (19 percent) say they have 3 or more mobile devices.
  • Children report spending approximately 2-3 hours per day using their mobile devices.
  • Compared to younger children (ages 8-12), teens spend significantly more time on their laptops (3.7 hours vs. 3 hours) and cell phones (2.9 hours vs. 1.9 hours).

Interesting…and perhaps scary…

“One-third of children report they would rather go without their summer vacation than give up their mobile devices.”

After reading the Intel Mobile Etiquette results, I asked Anna a number of questions.  I have paraphrased her answers below.

Do you believe we are more connected or disconnected than ever before?

“More connected, definitely,” Anna responded.   In the survey of both teens and parents, 75% each said devices have connected them more.

Anna expanded on the importance of etiquette and teaching our children…
Etiquette gives parents permission, authority, or structure to tell kids what to needs to change.  Implementing the structure is the tough part – consistency and role modeling is essential.  Etiquette is important in how you interact with your kids – you want your  relationship to be good, positive, and constructive.  However, that doesn’t mean that your kids will always be happy with you.  Nonetheless, there is something freeing for parents in knowing that they are doing the right thing, regardless of how children respond.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

What age do you believe is appropriate for children to have cellphones?

Anna believes that you can’t cite any one age, kids have different developmental rates.  It comes down to what families need mobile support for.  Keeping in touch when parents are working and their kids are getting out of school is paramount for many parents.    According to the Intel study, parents on average said age 13 is the age kids should get their first device.  However, many kids reported that they received their first device at age 11.

What critical advice would you like to impart to parents in advising their teens with phones?

1.  Communicate about any kind of technology – TV shows, websites, Facebook, phones, etc.  Engage with technology across the board.  Discuss how much content can a child text, and when and what subjects are off limits.  Anna believes parents should check on their teen’s use of technology and teens should know it’s being done.

2.  In setting rules/guidelines for mobile technology usage, Anna believes it can go both ways – children should be able to come up with rules – even for parents.  When kids help to express and verbalize behaviors that their parents are using, it helps them feel better too.  They have a stake in the rules.

To help kids understand the importance of rules and etiquette, parents can look at examples of other people using cellphones and ask “what did you think about Max’s phone behavior?”  Engage your kids and get their opinion.  Give them your view on the good and bad of it.

The Intel Study discovered:

Ninety-four percent of parents agree that they must set a positive example if they expect their children to practice good mobile manners.”

Unfortunately, setting a good example isn’t always easy:

  • 59% of children have witnessed their parents commit common mobile infractions, including the use of a mobile device on the road (59 percent), at dinner (46 percent) and during a movie or concert (24 percent).
  • Nearly half of U.S. children (49 percent) say they don’t see anything wrong with using technology at the dinner table.
  • Nearly 40 percent of parents admit they sometimes spend too much time using a mobile device in front of their children, and 42 percent of children think their parents need to disconnect more when they are at home.

Our world is full of instant gratification, and cellphones propagate this even further.   What suggestions do you have to help teens show restraint, when “everyone  else is doing it?

The Intel study showed that 11% of adults responded “I use mine because everyone is using it too.” This is adults saying this?  It rings, it beeps, it vibrates, it distracts us.  You actually don’t need to react right away to a call, most people leave messages.  It’s all about priorities.   Which is more important, the person standing in front of you or the person ringing in?

It is best to come up with heuristics to help guide adults and kids before situations  arise.  For example, do you text during a funeral?  During church?  According to the Intel study,

  • 24% have seen others using their cellphone during funerals.
  • 21% were annoyed by seeing someone using a cellphone at a funeral.
  • 25% annoyed by someone else using their cellphone at a religious event.

To help teens show restraint, many parents have established guidelines regarding their children’s use of mobile technology:

    • 49% prohibit use during school
    • 43% prohibit use during family time
    • 18% set limitations on contacts
    • 14% prohibit picture texting
    • 31% disallow mobile Internet usage

How do you feel about parents monitoring their teens’ text messages?

Anna believes monitoring kids’ texts is OK, but as they get older, consider how frequently you need to do this.  For example, you trust them when they’re 17 and they’re driving the car.  As they get older, they need to learn to earn your trust.  Of course, giving more freedom to teens depends on the kid, the relationship, and the trust they have already earned.

What is the proper etiquette if your son receives a sexting or inappropriate message on his phone.  What do you recommend that a parent does?  Should a parent contact the offending sender’s parents?

Yes, talk to the other parent.  If the tables were turned and the other child’s parents knew about it, would you want to know?  It’s important to think about safety, responsibility, even a child’s social identity.

Anymore you care to add about a parent’s responsibility with regards to their teens’ misuse of their phone?

Teens are teens.  They do not always have the forethought to be prepared in certain situations.  For example, carrying headphones with them will help ensure they aren’t bugging other people.  Help them set up a home charging plan so their phone is always juiced up.  [WCM add:] Give them a emergency juice pack to give them a few extra minutes to talk if their phone battery power discharged.  Ensure you do all you can so you don’t constantly hear, “I wanted to call you buy my phone was dead.” Learn about your teen’s cellphone features so you know how they can improve battery power, turn on GPS for tracking, find important phone numbers, etc.

When you’re talking to somebody and they interrupt you to answer a phone call, what advice do you have for the person standing there waiting?  What should they say when the person on the phone ends their call?  Is it rude to leave?

If you’re sitting at a table, roll with it unless the person your with does this a lot.  At a mixer or chatting with a mom on the playground, just smile, nod, give a wave of the hand, and back out.   You’re not being rude.  They made you second priority.  Your contractual obligation to be present is gone – they turned their back on you.  Same with texting.  Say, “I’ll let you take care of that and catch you later.”  Or, just stop speaking, it’s more subtle.  Try not to be scolding, or judgmental in your tone or expression.  Nobody likes the etiquette police, whether right or not.

As mobile devices continue to proliferate, manners will continue to be challenged.  Do your best to be a good example around your kids, remember, they are always watching!

For more information on Teens and Cellphones see:

WellConnectedMom.com:  Teens and Cellphones:  A PrimerMannersSafety, and Sexting.

Intel’s Mobile Etiquette newsroom

Other Teen articles:  5 Tips When Talking to Your Teen About Car Safety

* Intel provided me the opportunity to talk to Anna Post via phone.

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