“Just pick up the phone and call them!” I say to my teenagers. They’ve texted one or more of their friends to make plans, and all other activity is suspended as they wait impatiently for a response. It seems they would rather endure the frustration of waiting than having a verbal conversation with a friend.
Since when did speaking on the phone become something to be feared?
Intrusive phone calls?
This sentiment is shared by many, according to a survey of 2011 respondents, which found that:
- 56% of Australians avoid calling people, choosing instead to text or send an instant message of some kind.
- 69% of Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) used phone calls as their primary method of communication, this number drops to 43% for Gen X (1965-1976), 27% for Gen Y (1977-1995) and 23% for Gen Z (1996-now).
This reluctance to call and talk to people has earned Gen Z the nickname ‘Generation Mute’, with many of them admitting that they frequently text people in the same room as them.
Why Millennials & Gen Z avoid phone calls
Here’s what a few Millennials and Gen Z have to say:
- “When someone calls me, it’s like they’re walking into the room where I’m watching TV and SHOUTING IN FRONT OF MY FACE,”
- “Texting is seen as even more private, because it’s harder for Mom to look over my shoulder.”
- “[calling] is like saying, I am more important than whatever you’re doing right now. But with a text, I can look at it on my own terms.”
Why does responding to others always need to be ‘on my own terms’? Unfortunately, we don’t get to perfectly curate our lives ‘on our own terms’.
Of course, there are some instances when we can’t take a call but that is hardly cause for avoiding all voice calls. We can let the call go to voicemail, answer the call and tell them we’ll call back, or send a ‘Sorry can’t talk right now’ SMS. It’s often those unexpected calls that add surprise and interest to our day.
Phone conversations and thinking on your feet
One news.com.au article states, ‘Messages are arguably less intimidating than calls; you don’t have to think on your feet as much.’ Thinking on our feet is a key life skill; when our kids enter the workforce, they won’t have the luxury of texting responses to the job interview questions, let alone communicating with clients via text on the job. Sure, many organisations are pushing customers towards online, self-service channels, but there are many vocations that still require people talking to one another.
Obviously, texting can be a highly efficient way to communicate, e.g. ‘Just left work, pls turn oven on, put schnitzels in at 7pm’ conveys basic information; no ambiguity, no emotions that could be misunderstood.
However, when your teenage daughter learns that a friend is upset with her, a volley of text messages punctuated with emojis and acronyms is not going to be an effective way to communicate.
As parents, our role is to help coach our kids to know when texting is appropriate and when a conversation will yield a better outcome.
Mealtimes are a great opportunity to develop children’s conversation skills. Have someone share something interesting that happened in their day and encourage other family members to ask that person questions to explore the issue further.
Since primary school age, we have taught our kids to call to accept birthday party invitations verbally. Sometimes the call goes through to voicemail, but it all helps our kids to communicate with adults and think on their feet, even to leave a clear voice message. (We’ve found most parents catch on quickly that the call is a learning opportunity and engage our junior caller in a little conversation).
I think in the shift to an over-reliance on texts, we’ve lost some of the warmth and humanity that originally made the phone such an amazing piece of technology. Perhaps we need to get better at being interrupted.
We can also lead by example; this week when you’re tempted to text a friend, call them instead. Don’t text first to ask if they’re free to talk, just call and inject some spontaneity into your interactions.