“Can I speak to Mrs. Smith?”
“Yeah. Hang on. Mom! Mo-ommm! Phone call!”
Sound familiar? This exchange isn’t even the worst of bad phone etiquette a kid can dish out. It’s annoying to callers, embarrassing to parents and doesn’t do any favors for the children, who grow up without the basic manners to answer a phone properly.
But Pamela Barc, a certified etiquette consultant, who founded Etiquettes Edge in Lake Orion, says it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I think it’s important for parents to know that they are not only teaching their children life skills, but that the phone can be an excellent parenting tool,” she says.
As Barc believes, well-mannered kids become well-mannered adults, and proper phone etiquette has become a neglected part of manner skills. To prep your child for proper phone habits, Barc offers the following seven tips.
1. Privilege, not a right. When a parent demonstrates that the telephone is a privilege and not a right, it immediately communicates that it’s something of importance. Barc says this establishes the concept of boundaries.
2. Start early. “I believe if you’ve got a child that can form a complete sentence, then they should be able to use the phone,” Barc says. Studies have shown that 3-year-olds are more mature today because of daycare and preschool, she adds. And the earlier you start, the sooner you can begin instructing children on boundaries. It’s also very important to teach a young child to dial 911 in case of an emergency.
3. Set a safe but polite tone. A child from the age of 7 and up should understand how to answer the phone respectfully but give limited information. The child should never give his or her first name or the family’s surname, Barc says. An excellent greeting is, “Hello, may I ask who’s calling?” This immediately puts your child at an advantage, Barc says. “It immediately puts an adult off guard.”
Once the person identifies him or herself, the child can ask, “Who would you like to speak with?” If the person is not there, particularly if it’s a parent, the child should say that the person is not able to come to the phone at that time. As many parents know, kids should never tell callers that mom or dad isn’t home.
4. Information gathering. Children also should be taught to take proper messages. “If a pencil or pen are placed by the phone, parents can begin training children to process and write down information correctly,” says Barc. To prevent your child from forgetting to tell you that you have a message, instruct him or her to leave all messages near the phone, so you know to check for them when you get home.
5. Request the use of the phone. An elementary-age child should ask for permission to use the phone. This reinforces the idea that phone usage is a privilege. Barc says this also helps parents keep a pulse on their child’s life. “You learn more about your kid when they are talking to other kids,” she says – even if it’s just getting a sense of who they’re chatting with.
6. Making a call. Teach children to introduce themselves to whoever answers the phone before asking to speak to their friends, so it becomes habit-forming. For example, they could say, “Hello, this is John. May I speak to David?”
7. End the conversation politely. And finally, teach your child how to end a conversation with manners. He or she could say, “My mom is calling me to dinner, so I have to go. But it was very nice speaking with you, Isabella.”
This may seem like a lot to insist of a child speaking with his or her friends, but Barc says it’s important preparation for the workplace. “We’re a society that often doesn’t end on a positive note,” she says, “and small things like this get you noticed.”
This post was originally published in 2010 and has been updated for 2016.