On My Memories of Teenage Phone Calls

I was shocked today to see a news story about a mom who gave her son a new phone for Christmas but did so along with an 18-point “contract” about how he’ll be allowed to use it.

Much of the commentary on the Internet and the radio ranged from “what a fabulous idea” to “that’s a little extreme” and I was perplexed. It makes complete and utter sense to me that parents should give their children rules about how they are allowed to use their technology.

I didn’t have a cell phone until grade 12, and even then it was really my mum’s cell phone. When I went out with friends she had me take it – mainly so that if I got stuck somewhere, needed a ride home, or my friends & I got into any sort of trouble, I could call her. About 5 of my friends had their own cell phones, but I was perfectly happy sharing one with family. And it wasn’t until November of my first year of university (across an ocean from my mum and my home town) that I purchased my own phone. I was always responsible for the bill myself.

These phones didn’t have any of the capabilities of the phones kids use today. I remember the flip phone with the antenna that my mum and I shared in my grade 12 year, purchased for a road trip we took the summer after I finished grade 9. Before making a call I would pull the antenna up, and type in the numbers on the two-tone greenish screen. I honestly don’t remember if it had the ability to text. It certainly didn’t take pictures.

Similarly I remember the first time I went “online” and vividly remember setting up our family’s first computer. I find it fascinating that my (future) children won’t have these memories for themselves. But I’m adamant that they will have similar memories of endless conversations and negotiations about setting up their first email address, about being allowed to use an instant messaging service. (I missed the ICQ phase, but successfully negotiated signing up for and intalling MSN).

The private communication devices that are so ubiquitous amongst teenagers and even children are something that I can’t quite wrap my head around yet. For me the experience of using the phone to talk to my friends as a teenager is wrapped up in sitting under the phone counter in the kitchen. The Christmas I got a GameBoy Colour and Pokémon Blue, I spent most of the morning in this position on the phone to my best friend who’d received the same gaming system (and Pokémon Red), while my family started the preparation for that evening’s dinner.

I remember when we got a longer phone cord and I could glean a bit more privacy by sitting around the corner from the kitchen on the steps to the computer room, my knees still easily seen by mum if she was at the stove in the kitchen, my side of the conversation even more easily overheard, my friendships quite open and known to my mother.

I still remember many of my elementary and high school friends’ home phone numbers. I remember dialing and having to ask to speak to them. Are they home? Can they come to the phone right now? This is all part of the memory and ritual of high school phone conversations for me. Or maybe its just nostalgia.

While the conversations and friendships of kids and teens haven’t changed much from when I grew up, the way they communicate within their friendships and relationships have changed quite a bit, and I’m sure they will change even more by the time I’m a parent myself. But I think it is something that we should think on a bit further. By no means is this a post saying children shouldn’t be allowed access to communications technology, the world is rapidly changing and denying them access to the skills they can gain is not the right way to deal with this change. But the age at which children should be allowed independence and privacy with their tech is something that should be negotiated within the family. The news story that prompted this is one that should not be a news story, it should be standard procedure.

Thoughts? When did you get your first cell phone? How did phone calls go in your household?

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2 Responses to On My Memories of Teenage Phone Calls

  1. shawnmac says:

    What a great post Pippa (as I expected it would be after it only took months in the making-lol) I remember many of the things you speak about. I never did get my first cell phone, at least until I could buy one for myself. I begged and pleaded when I was in high school, but my MEAN parents never caved. They simply said NO! I was so angry at them but the longer I went without it the more appreciative I was of that decision. I mean that was probably one of the smartest moves my parents made as I was growing up. I was so very slowly introduced to technology and it really made me appreciate it when I got it, it also showed me a lot of the complications as I listened to friends stories, and then when I did finally get it I certainly was not dependent on it. I still to this day hand write many of my letters and people are always so surprised and excited to receive them and I love this slower pace of communication. Thanks for writing this and bringing back so many amazing memories and for pointing out some really great points about communicating.

  2. When I got my first cell phone, I was 14. I was involved in a ton of extracurricular activities, so my arrival time home or the time I needed pickup would often change. My mother’s initial plan was that I not know my own number, because she was afraid people would be able to call me when I was out and change the plan I had left her with before I walked out the door. I thought that was annoying; I could just as easily run into someone while out and change my plans. However, none of that was ever really an issue, because my number was stored somewhere in the phone and I found it right away. My plan didn’t have a lot of minutes, and when I was home, that was where It took my calls.
    The first phone was a Nokia, and it sent text messages (I think) and made phone calls. It was bulky, and I held onto it for a really long time, considering how much fun was made of me for my “lame” phone. (It always had reception!) I switched to a Siemens in the twelfth grade, and that, too, was a text-and-call-only phone. A free promotional Moto Razr came in the mail sometime in the next couple years, and I used that until finally caving two Christmases ago due to Santa’s need for a “big Santa gift” and fell in love with my iPhone 3G. I plan on obtaining an iPhone 5 when the next (glitch-free) model comes out.
    I feel that the technology at my disposal is appropriate. I am responsible enough to handle having a camera phone; no boy I’ve ever liked has been sent a naked picture of me. I have been out late at night in big cities like New York and Los Angeles and proved that I can get myself safely home. Nobody is texting me to entice me somewhere dark and dangerous that I have no experience with. Beyond that, I’m 25, and in charge of my own life.
    As a parent, I would be concerned if my child had that much freedom. If my child could be in his or her room having completely secret conversations with people I didn’t know. If my young daughter could be using her phone to send photos to the boy she liked. If my son could be taking upskirt pictures to impress his friends. I completely agree with a limit to technology, with discussion about how it is to be used. And to reminding a kid that his phone is a privilege, not a right.
    Technology brings us together with e-mail, Skype, “thinking of you” text messages, and phone calls. But it also allows us secret lives, and probably takes away some of our appreciation for being able to talk to our friends. There was a time when a friend would walk six miles just to see if Johnny could come play. Now, a poorly-written text message can summon sex in the middle of the night.
    With great power comes great responsibility.

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