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Exasperated mother: My teenaged daughter is on the phone for hours and is rude when we ask her to relinquish it. Are there any guidelines?

Just about all of the books that deal with parenting teens stress how important the telephone is to teens (“the adolescent’s lifeline”). The problem of teen telephone hogging is very common but I am not aware of any specific time guidelines like the ones telling parents only one hour of TV per day.

The reason the telephone is so important to teens is that friends are so important. The telephone is not only the way teens keep in touch but it is also the way teens “practice” communication in a safe way. If they blush or overreact or aren’t wearing their most fashionable jeans, no one sees. Teens can also try out new ideas and feelings easier on the telephone than in person and teens have lots of new ideas and feelings.

Exasperated as parents can get when their boss or friends complain the line is always busy, they should really get worried if the phone never rings for their teenager. A silent telephone indicates a lonely and disconnected (pardon the pun) kid. When the phone rings a lot the teen gets a connecting message from their friends that says you are liked and you are wanted.

But the home telephone is a utility/resource for the entire family so that there must be rules for sharing. Of course some families that can afford a “children’s phone” for the kids with a separate number and listing. Ditto, a cell phone for each child. However learning how to share a scarce resource is good for the child, the family, and the planet.

Telephone etiquette is important. Children should be taught the polite ways to:

Answer the phone. Always use a pleasant voice and offer to take a message if the call is for someone else.

Say hello when making a call. Speak warmly and clearly identify your self.

Ring off. It’s been nice talking to you but I have to do my homework is better than Gotta go.

Use call-waiting. Say, Excuse me, I have another call, I’ll be right back. and quickly get back to the first caller after jotting down the second caller’s number.

Take and write down an accurate message.

Children also must learn to limit the length of their phone calls. This is especially true in homes that do not have call-waiting, or have one line for both the telephone and the computer modem, or when one family member needs to keep the line open to get important calls or information.

What should you do with the teenager who hogs the phone, sasses other callers, and ignores pleas of family members who need the phone? This is a perfect time to take this obnoxious kid out to lunch. Why lunch? This is exactly what you would do if you had a problem with a colleague at work. It is always a good idea to try solving sticky problems in a neutral setting where other people prevent both parties from losing their cool.

Tell your daughter at lunch that the entire family has a telephone problem. Your friend complained your line was busy all afternoon, Grandma said your daughter was rude to her on the phone, and no one else in the family can use the phone when she is home. Remind her the phone is a family resource not her private property. Tell her you appreciate how important the phone is to her and her friends, but the family needs a solution and you need HER HELP in coming up with a solution. You need her to propose reasonable guidelines for your approval or negotiation.

If you give kids some say in setting the rules there is likely to be less hassle. It is still your job as parent, though, to enforce the rules once agreed upon.