Recently, in a social setting that included two adults and four teenagers, two of the teens separated from the group to talk on cellphones...

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Recently, in a social setting that included two adults and four teenagers, two of the teens separated from the group to talk on cellphones.

I felt annoyed. We adults were trying to connect with the younger generation, and a couple of them found it more important to talk to someone else. At first I was affronted — wasn’t I a cool enough middle-age adult to hold the interest of these teenagers? Then I realized it wasn’t my lack of social ability; it was their lack of etiquette.

Does a call really take priority over the social situation at hand? Were the teens trying to impress us with the fact that they had a call coming in?

I wondered what it must be like in homes. In a family with two parents and three teenagers, each with their own cellphone, think of the chaos of family life. At dinner time, family birthday parties, holiday celebrations and possibly even watching a movie together, do teens go off to answer their cellphones?

In the middle of a parent-child exchange regarding values, discipline or reviewing the family calendar, is it typical to be interrupted with an incoming phone call?

We’ve all heard of public rules relating to cellphone use: not in libraries, movies, elevators, museums, cemeteries, theaters, waiting rooms, places of worship, auditoriums, emergency rooms, buses and the like. Never during meetings or in restaurants. Never when shopping, banking, waiting in line or conducting personal business. Never when driving, unless with a headpiece. If these are rules for public places, what rules apply to intimate settings?

Many households develop a cellphone protocol — with “quiet zones” and “phone-free” areas and times — that is taught to children from a young age. Isn’t it only polite to make a call by excusing yourself or, when anticipating a call, warning the people you’re with that an important call will be coming in and you will need to step away to receive it?

Of course, parents need to model appropriate mobile-phone use; quality time with kids does not count if you’re on the phone. It’s not OK to take your kids to the park and spend your time yakking on the phone.

One of the best times to talk with children is in the car. If you’re on a cellphone, how can you carry on a conversation with your child? Technological change leads to social change, but there’s always a lag.

Manners need to increase with increased use. Having loud cellphone conversations in public or in your own home is simply rude. The convenience of these devices has led many to become lazy and to lose awareness of themselves, others and their surroundings. With voice messaging, there’s no need to take every call or even check to see who’s calling. (Expectant fathers and doctors on call are exempt.) Schools have created rules. Certainly a social and familial code of cellphone etiquette needs to exist, and parents can teach and model it for their children.

What rules have you established? I’d like to hear them.

Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers questions of general interest in her column. E-mail her at janfaull@ or write Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.

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