Over the past few years, there has been an increasing number of young people in my practice who, once on their own, become incapacitated at the mere thought of making a phone call. These young adults grew up in the age of text messaging as a main form of communication. The lack of phone experience in our young adult population results in heightened, and unnecessary, anxiety when faced with calling, rather than text messaging, to communicate necessary information. They have trouble calling to schedule appointments, return phone calls, make business phone calls, and often, even when calling family and friends. This phone anxiety is taking a toll on society’s young adults, manifesting as neglected health care, lost job opportunities, and damaged relationships due to uninitiated, or non-returned, phone calls.
Phone anxiety has existed since the invention of the phone. Most of us occasionally experience a mild form of phone anxiety when making a particularly challenging phone call, but we get over it and pick up the phone. However, some people have debilitating phone anxiety, rendering them unable to make a phone call without first delaying the call and working themselves into a full-blown anxiety attack. The most severe sufferers of phone anxiety often completely avoid making phone calls, manipulating an enabler to make the call for them. Rarely seen in my practice before five years ago, phone anxiety among young adults is now commonplace. This is particularly ironic since more people have their own personal phones than ever before, and at a earlier age!
We need to recognize this phenomenon of phone anxiety, particularly among our young adults, and proactively address it. There are several easy ways we can each do this.
- Do not allow your family to text each other within your home. If a family member wants to communicate with another family member, while both are home, insist they get up and communicate in person.
- Set the example. When in front of your children, and faced with the choice to send a text or make a phone call, choose to call whenever possible. Talk your decision through, out loud, so your children can hear your thinking process. Sample Script: “Oh! I just remembered I have to let Uncle Max know what time to come for dinner Saturday. I think I’ll call instead of sending a text message, so we can discuss all the details right away, instead of spending the rest of the afternoon messaging back & forth.”
- Encourage your children to call, rather than text. When text messaging someone comes up in conversation with your children, suggest they call the person instead.
- Call rather than text, yourself. If you need to communicate with your child while one of you is away from home, call rather than text, whenever possible.
- Teach phone communication skills. Weave teaching your children about phone communication into your parenting by expanding on the types of calls you teach them to make throughout their childhood.
Generally, we teach our children to call 911 in an emergency. However, many parents admit they never teach beyond that lesson when it comes to using the phone. Start with the easiest of calls, when your children are between five and seven years old. When you call their grandparent, a cousin, or someone they know well, teach your children to dial the phone for you, greet the person, and transition the call over to you. This will help them become used to the phone calling process before they reach the age of feeling self-conscious about it. Do it often enough so that it is second nature to them.
Build on your children’s phone skills, as they age, by teaching them to participate in arranging their play dates. Instead of calling the parent of your child’s friend to arrange the date, teach your child to call, and how to initiate the conversation. Teach them how to greet whomever answers the phone, how to ask for the person to whom they want to speak, and then how to open the conversation with that person and hand the call over to you. Some children may require significant support to accomplish this task. Be patient, and give them what they need, including preparing a script and role-playing beforehand. If that is what it takes to get them through the process the first few times, don’t worry. It will be worth it when they develop phone competency skills to take with them when they eventually leave home!
SAMPLE Play Date Invitation SCRIPT: Your child, Alex, dials his friends number. His friends brother, Joey answers.
- Alex: Hi Joey. This is Alex, your brother Adam’s friend. May I please speak with your mom?
- Joey: Sure… Your child’s friend’s mom gets on the phone.
- Mrs. Smith: Alex?
- Alex: Hello Mrs. Smith. May Adam come over after school tomorrow?
Prepare a script your child for both a Yes and a No answer.
- Mrs. Smith: No, Alex, Adam already has plans. I’m sorry.
- Alex: My Mom is here with me. Would you mind talking with her to make plans for a time Adam can come over?
- Mrs. Smith: Sure Alex, Adam would really like that.
- Alex: “That’s great! Thank You! My Mom is here with me. Would you mind talking with her about the details?”
Granted, sometimes texts make more sense than a phone call, and are often more expedient. However, we must recognize that we are trading expedient communication for our children’s ability to calmly, and appropriately, communicate via phone, once they are out on their own. As convenient as texts are, not all communications are dealt with effectively, via text. As independent, fully functioning adults, there will be times our children will have to make phone calls. When children aren’t given the opportunity to use the phone and taught phone communication skills, they suffer significantly, and unnecessarily, as an adult. They don’t pick up the phone to call service people when needed, they don’t call to make doctor appointments, and they don’t call friends “just to talk”. The less verbal communication our young people engage in, the weaker their communication skills become. The weaker their verbal communication becomes, the more anxious they become about using the telephone to make a call. The suffering of phone anxiety in our young adults, and the resultant negative consequences, are avoidable!
Let’s all do our part to minimize the potential negative, long-term impact of text messaging on our children. Let me know what you think! Have you witnessed this issue? Is it an issue for you? Let me know if you agree, or disagree: Are there long-term negative consequences when children grow up text-ing more than calling?