Child’s telephone etiquette reveals lesson for parents

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

The story is 15 years old, but I still think of it, especially when I’m on the phone — and would rather not be.

My niece, Ashley, was 5 years old at the time. We often teased her that she could talk 60 miles-per-hour with gusts up to 90. But when she was finished talking on the phone, she had her own creative means of ending the conversation.

She would say, “Wanna talk with my Mom? Bye!” And she’d be gone, thrusting the phone in her mother’s hands. We were often left in mid-sentence to awkwardly continue the conversation.

For years, our family used Ashley’s method when we needed to end our phone calls. It was all done in humor, but it worked.

However, Ashley was dealing with a dilemma we all face at times: How do we terminate a too-long conversation? She was really saying, “Please let me go. I have another agenda I must attend to.”

Don’t we all?

Now, I hope my friends and family will not take this personally and stop calling me. I do love chatting on the phone — most of the time. However, the real point is that children have their own agendas that adults sometimes do not take seriously.

Attention spans do expire. Sometimes we are only given a small window of alertness to exchange information before other pressing matters distract those young minds.

And with age, those humorous quips of self-importance evolve, sometimes painfully.

My father told another story that hits even closer to home now. At the time, I was 16, brother Forest, 14, and sister Rachel, 12. Dad was trying to set up a social event for the family but was having difficulty coordinating schedules.

Forest must have sensed Dad’s growing frustration. “Dad,” he said. “You know we children can no longer meet all your emotional needs. We have plans of our own.”

Although I can’t remember the next words, I’ll never forget the resigned look on my father’s face. And now that my youngest child is 17, I think I know how Dad must have felt.

Both Forest and Ashley have a point. Children do have their own plans and they want to get on with them. Although what is important to them may seem insignificant to us, children, like adults, want their ideas and feelings respected.

“Please let me go. I have another agenda to tend to,” they say in many ways from the time that toddler hands off the phone until that teenager’s plans trumps ours.

It’s hard to hear, but it is what we want to hear. We want them to create their own agendas and develop their lives outside of our worlds.

But the road to independence is filled with conflict. At best, perhaps we live with a creative tension that gives children room to grow while sustaining that strong root system so necessary for maturity.

Yet occasionally, they may need to tell us, “Wanna talk to my mom? Bye!” And remind us that they are ready for a more important agenda.