Lost Skills of Old-Time Communication

Lynn JataniaThe other day, a friend of my 11-year-old daughter called the house to make arrangements to get together for a group project.

I answered the phone and the young girl on the other end of the line immediately and confidently identified herself by name, explained why she was calling, then asked to speak to my daughter directly.

I was impressed, to say the least.

old telephone and cell phoneIn this day and age, so much of our social interaction happens online. You can book appointments online for just about anything. You can share your group projects with your school mates through Google Docs and arrange to meet up with friends through Instagram. You can check in with your family on Facebook, email your boss that you’re working from home and order a birthday gift for your friend on Amazon.

But sometimes we still need to use the phone. I’m certainly hoping my kids will call me every now and again once they have places of their own, at the very least. Since my kids were young, I’ve encouraged them to answer the phone politely when it rings, and to make their own phone calls when required. Some love it (my two extroverted daughters, who are now known as my “little secretaries”), some hate it (my introverted son), but all three have learned some basic polite phrases and communication techniques for being kind, helpful people over the phone. It’s an old-fashioned skill perhaps, but I think it will pay off someday – or at the very least, make them the kind of society members that I want them to be.

Lately I’ve been thinking the same kind of thing about composing and sending emails. A friend of mine tried to arrange a doctor’s appointment online, and the email response – clearly from a young office assistant – was full of slang, SMS language like “l8r,” and spelling mistakes. She was horrified, and although it makes me feel kind of old, so was I.

I’ve been imagining my kids in similar jobs and I’d really like to make sure they would do better. We’ve been talking about different “voices” for different contexts and how to write a proper letter or more formal, work-related email. Last fall, when our two oldest teens were applying for jobs at our local ski hill, we had them write all their own emails as part of the application and they learned a lot. I was proud of them – and they won the jobs, too.

I think it’s easy to think of phone communication and email communication as dying technologies, but I still feel like we need to encourage our kids to practice being polite, being communicative and setting the right tone. Do you deliberately teach your kids phone and email skills?