Motherhood

In Which Teenagers Can’t Make Phone Calls

Teaching Kids to Make Phone Calls

My kids are afraid of phone calls…

…and they come by it honestly. Text me the words “Can you hop on a call?” and I’ll be like, “Sure! I just have to do a quick shot of tequila and then run to the pharmacy to pick up a tube of cortisone cream for the hives I got from your text.”

That said, if you ask me to please call and place our taco order, I will call and place our taco order. I will not throw a protective arm over my eyes and yell, “AAAAAGH! Noooo!” like a taco-loving vampire squinting suddenly into the sunlight. But my kids will. (And I use the term “kids” loosely. My daughter is 17; my son is 20.)

In its role as a calling device — versus, say, as a TikTok enabler — the phone, for my children, is like a baffling archaeological artifact chiseled out from the Pleistocene Era, but one that’s on fire and will probably kill them. And if you want to laugh, watch this video:

They would rather walk the 1.2 miles into town to see if the froyo place has their favorite flavor than call the froyo place and say the six words, “Hi. Do you have maple today?”; a happy but less wholesome alternative is to refresh the froyo place’s Twitter feed for an hour, not unlike the way my husband would sooner drive 100 wrong miles than stop and speak to a human about where he’s trying to go.

To be clear, these are lovely, skillful people. They will put down their multivariable calculus homework to sit with me and listen to Nina Simone; they can make a killer quesadilla and put up a tent in the dark; they are political activists and excellent friends. But ask them to call the dentist and it’s like (sorry) pulling teeth. And they’re definitely not alone. When I asked my Facebook friends how their kids felt about making phone calls, I got over 100 stories ranging from shy reluctance to full-blown alarm to imagined death. As one friend put it: “They don’t make them.”

It’s a little baffling, the way they’ll happily FaceTime with their friends, but then a single looming old-fashioned phone call can trigger an almost existential kind of shuddering dread, even in a person who is otherwise neither anxious nor introverted. (Full disclosure: I am both.) My son compares making a call to the performance anxiety of improv acting, which he hates. “A text you’re in control of,” is what he says. “A phone call can totally go off the rails.” You call the pizza place and you’re like, “Hi. I’d like to order two large pizzas for delivery,” and they’re like, “Our pizza oven is down. Do you want ziti?” And you’re like [cue the wild-horse eyes].

Role-playing helped my children when they were younger — just to get the rhythm of who speaks when, and what they might say. (One friend’s kid presses talk and says, “What?” Another kid’s friend says, in lieu of “Goodbye,” something more like, “I’m going to wear my cut-offs.” Click.) They’ve also battled the impromptu horror by writing little scripts for themselves. For my daughter, this is usually related to her political activism, since she calls our elected officials approximately one million times a day. For my son, the script is usually about a car on Craigslist. He just showed me this, typed out on his phone: “Hi, Al. I just saw the two Honda Accords, and I was wondering if either of those cars were still for sale.” (My tiny child is alive and well inside a man’s body!) He wrote an alternate script for leaving a message. When I asked which one he ended up using, he said, “Luckily, it went to voicemail, and the mailbox was full.” “Thank god!” I said back to him, and he laughed.

I used to picture the kids staring nervously at the phone, role-playing a 911 call after they’d, you know, found one of us slumped over unbreathingly or sawed off their own legs. But now I realize, thanks to the sometimes-wonderful pressure of peers, they can call to reserve a campsite or order chicken wings or (I’m guessing) call the head shop, if head shops are still a thing. In this way, as in most other ways, the children will ultimately do what needs doing when either desire exceeds dread or there are no other alternatives. You’d think I’d be done learning this, because it has always been true.

So, yes, the kids may not need to make a ton of calls in their lives, but they’ll still need to cancel the occasional doctor’s appointment, conduct a job interview, or pick up when their grandparents call singingly from two separate house phones to wish them a happy birthday. And it’s good for them to know how. If they’re really starting from scratch, these how-tos are from my book How to Be a Person:

Teaching Kids to Make Phone Calls

Teaching Kids to Make Phone Calls

At the very least, you’ll want them to call you one day, after they’ve left home. Just so you can explain, better than Google ever could, how to roast a chicken or file taxes or water a hydrangea. Just so you can hear, in your aching Mama ear, their badly missed voice. A mere satellite away.


Catherine Newman is the author of, most recently, How to Be a Person. You can find her at Ben and Birdy.

P.S. 21 completely subjective rules for raising teenage boys, and 21 completely subjective rules for raising teenage girls.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow.)

  1. Joy says...

    29 y/o here and I hate making calls as well. I don’t mind too much in English, but we live in France and I regularly have to make Dr’s rdvs or call the crèche for my daughter and speaking on the phone in another language is incredibly difficult.

  2. Sid says...

    They don’t know what a dial tone is 🤯

  3. Rachel says...

    “A phone call can totally go off the rails.” You call the pizza place and you’re like, “Hi. I’d like to order two large pizzas for delivery,” and they’re like, “Our pizza oven is down. Do you want ziti?” Tears just rolled down my face at this! So funny. I too hate phone calls and I am in my 40’s. I never make them.

    • Haha yes I started cry-laughing at this too!

  4. Amy says...

    Oh my gosh, on my old laptop somewhere I definitely still have the script I wrote out for the time I had to call my coworker, who had asked me on a date for that evening, and find out once and for all if he had a girlfriend. (He did!) I remember it ended with two scenarios, the hopeful “Great! Then I will see you tonight” and the line I wound up using, which was “Well then I’m not going to meet you tonight, and I don’t think we should see each other alone anymore.”

  5. Meredith says...

    This post makes me so thankful for my job in insurance! I send a TON of emails, but I also have to pick up the phone and call strangers (and ask them for things!) about a million times a day. It has absolutely gotten me over my old fear of the phone.

    I used to majorly struggle because I didn’t want to bother people, didn’t know if I’d be interrupting something, and didn’t always know how to get off of a social call without being rude. It’s funny too to see the part about scripts, that was always way worse for me! If the other person didn’t stick to my imagined script of how the conversation would go, I had no clue what to do/say and would sometimes stick to my script instead of the conversation at hand…

    Now I can use the phone like an old pro! I still suck at leaving voicemails though… I never know how much of my question to actually ask or if I should just let the call me back/follow up via email.

  6. I’ll be 24 next month, and I HATE making phone calls. I definitely think my own fear comes from having received so many awful ones in my lifetime though. I’ve been told some truly horrible news over the phone, have had horrible people get hold of my number and threaten me over the phone, etc, and now have a true fear of answering the phone – especially when I don’t know who is on the other end.

    I also dread MAKING calls as I don’t have the best hearing, and unlike a movie, you can’t put subtitles on a phone call! 😅 So I only make phone calls when absolutely necessary (such as doctors appointments). The stress they cause me also trigger my seizures as I have epilepsy, and the person on the other end of the phone can never tell that I’m having a seizure, so that’s not fun for them either.

    I’m glad that the few family members that I am in contact with use Facebook, so we can keep in contact that way, as I really don’t do phone calls, and have no plan to in the future. I do understand what older generations must think, but I wouldn’t be surprised if phone calls became even less common with younger generations, until they become completely obsolete altogether someday.

  7. Ange says...

    I hate phone calls too, my phone just rang in my office while reading this and I actually gasped! (luckily it was co-worker I love asking a quick question!) My husband looooves phone calls and messages, and listening to him leave messages is so cringe-worthy, I want to die every time. Can we also talk about the actual act of holding the phone? Hard no. The minute I realize this phone call is turning into a conversation > 30 seconds I need headphones or the ability to put the phone down and put it on speakerphone. The thought of holding the phone to my ear makes me shudder. I can always tell my true friends, those who call and know better than to leave a voicemail ;)

  8. Sil says...

    I turn 41 tomorrow, and I am and have always been afraid of making phone calls. I dread the awkward silences.

    • Jenny/AdventuresAlongTheWay says...

      Happy birthday! I hope you have a good day and get to do something you enjoy.

  9. Jax says...

    Ha!

    But in my experience, some of them will endure a Facetime or Whatsapp video chat?
    Am I wrong? Is that more of a young Millennial thing? Happy to be corrected.

    • Jax says...

      Also noting that I’m a Gen Xer, but I was SOOOOO happy when we could use texting for 90-95% of our communications. I do love a good phone call catch-up with my family and gfs, but that is a mutually agreed-upon torture, haha. I hate nothing more than when someone calls me out of the blue to have a long chat without arranging/scheduling it first.

  10. Alice says...

    I’m 30, and I’ve ALWAYS detested making phonecalls. I’m absolutely fine with calling someone I know, but anything other than that gives me full on heart racing, stomach churning, palm sweating anxiety. I too have been known to write scripts- starting when I was about 13 and had my first babysitting gigs- though I’m absolutely fine with voicemail. My main concern is “But what if it’s a bad time for them?!!?!”. Basically, I’m too much of a people pleaser and don’t want to interrupt. Glad I’m not alone!

    • Alice says...

      OH- and as a related point, Queen of the Voicemail is my grandma. If leaving me a voicemail, she will *without fail* say “Oh Alice, it’s only Grandma. I’m just calling to enquire how you are. Byeeeee!”. Every. Single. Time. It’s hilarious and wonderful and SHE NEVER SAYS ENQUIRE IN PERSON. I adore her.

    • K says...

      This reminds me of my grandma’s voicemails. My dad had recorded the message, but she’d likely be calling for my mum. Her message would always begin “oh hello [my dad’s name] How are you? Can you tell H I wanted to talk to her?” as though she had a very unresponsive version of my dad actually on the phone.
      And my grandpa ended every phone call with “good” and a prompt hang up!

  11. Cathy says...

    Interesting! Years ago, I was a therapist at a residential treatment center for teens. Before my clients left the center, one of the skills we practiced was making phone calls for practical things like making appointments, gathering information, etc. I would demonstrate and then the kids would try. It was hard, but they got more comfortable and at least felt like they could do it on their own. This was pre-cell phone days, so no texting available!

  12. Bec says...

    I am 32 and while I tolerate phone calls, I absolutely LOATHE voicemail. It is the height of inefficiency! If I miss a call from my mum I call her back straight away and she asks “did you listen to my message?!”. No… I am speaking to you now…? And every time she or someone leaves me a message it goes like “Hello, it’s so-and-so here, it is…3….40pm on Tuesday afternoon. I hope you’re well and having a nice day. I’m just calling to say hello and ask how your meeting went earlier, anyway, call me back when you get a moment please. Chat soon, bye”. All of that I can deduce from the missed call alone! Also the phone will tell me the time you rang. Do not spend time leaving me a message pleeeeease!

    • Hannah says...

      Haha yes! My mom always tells me the time of her message.

    • JayNay says...

      oooh, I’m team “no voicemail” too! I considered changing my voicemail message to say “if you’re hearing this, please just call me back later or text me, don’t leave a message that’s gonna cause me endless anxiety until I listen to it to find out that all you said was to please call you back, that’s assumed since you called me and I missed it so just text what you want but for godssake no voicemail pleeeease kthxbye”.
      I also hate making calls, and I used to work as a reporter! Not sure where call anxiety came from, but it’s real!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Haha jaynay, you should!

    • Hayley B says...

      YASSSS this!! I hate hate hate being made to go through the trouble of retrieving voicemails only to get pointless messages like ppl telling me they called but I didn’t pick up (well DUH, if I had I wouldn’t be listening to this voicemail!!) and worse, messages from my mother where it’s nothing but her breathing hard into the phone for a few seconds until she finally gets around to cutting off the call. It drove me absolutely BONKERS. I too used to tell ppl not to leave me voicemails but there would always be the stubborn ninnies who refused to listen and would do it anyway.

      So I decided that the best way to get through to these steadfast miscreants is to cancel my voicemail. Yup! No more voicemail inbox! The freedom is indescribable — nobody can leave me messages, intentionally or otherwise, I no longer have to deal with the barrage of endless automated SMS notifications from the telco (you have 1 unheard voicemailx1000) and no more navigating Byzantine phone tree prompts just to get that 1 miserable message. Now if someone calls, they either get me on the line or they’ll learn to TEXT me if it’s really important. Anybody who truly knows me knows better than to call me if they want my prompt attention anyway!

    • Alizee says...

      As a counterpoint to this, I will say that voicemails are a really nice thing to have when you are missing a person’s voice, either because you are far away or because they have died. When I was in college and missing my mom in the middle of the night, I would replay some of her voicemails — the “hi just wanted to check-in today we had chicken for lunch, anyways call me back when you can!” ones and hearing her voice would calm me. Also, when my aunt died, I forwarded her voicemails and everyone in the family were happy to be able to hear her just talking about snippets of her life.

  13. My son just sits there when I say hello.
    Then I say…”This is the part where you say hello”
    “I did!”
    “Well I didn’t hear you.”
    Silence

  14. Rebecca says...

    I hate phone calls, unless it’s just a quick call with a definite purpose. That being said, I’ve noticed that my kids, at least when young, do better on the phone than they do over FaceTime. I try to have my 5-year old talk to my parents on the phone, she tends to focus better on an actual conversation than she does on a video call.

  15. Abbe says...

    Phone anxiety is real! I’m 27 and much better now but I still remember my 5th birthday where I threw a temper tantrum at my party in front of several relatives. My mother made me call everyone the next day and apologize for my behavior. As a shy 5 year old is was absolute TORTURE. I think as a kid part of the anxiety is also talking to older adults in a much more direct way than you would normally — it feels like you’re pinned. Nowadays I’m still not a fan of those phone calls you have to make to resolve adult issues but I am getting better. And I love talking to my friends on the phone!

  16. Daria says...

    I’m 39 and act the same way! There’s nothing worse for me than a phone call, except maybe going begging on the street.

    Can we pretend that we came back to the 19th century when you’d write a note and send it with a courier if you needed to convey a quick message or talk to your aunt?

    Calling someone feels just like showing up on his/her doorstep, unannounced. I pretty please my husband to do most of my common phone calls, including booking a table at restaurants.

    I do it rather gladly if I’m the only one able to (like when we’re in Italy and I’m the only one to speak Italian…) But – please don’t laugh – I double-check on thefork whether they have availability beforehand, just to eliminate the possibility of hearing a “no”…

  17. Lori says...

    I’m 40 and have been hard of hearing my entire life and THANK GOD there are alternatives to the phone call now! Texting changed my life. It’s such a PITA to have to find someone to make phone calls for me whenever there’s no other alternative.

  18. I miss phone calls! When I am ready to have a family I think I’d like to install a landline phone and ditch the cell phones at the door for the night. I think we’re missing out by only calling and talking to specific people, rather than having a friendly 30-second update on other people’s lives in the house while we wait for the person we actually wanted to talk with. Less efficient? Definitely. But it’s also a nice to catch up with grandparents or in-laws or friends of my partner (or even children!) who might not be in my immediate circle.

    • Emily says...

      Yes!!! This 100%

    • Stephanie says...

      I agree!! Sometimes that was torturous (as a teen, especially when your friend called and your dad picked up!) but mostly it was great. Lovely for the caller to speak to a few people, and even if it was friends (not family) you got to know everyone in the household. Being able to make small talk with a stranger is an important skill, and I also think it’s so good to get to know your kid’s friends that way.

  19. Debbie K. says...

    As usual, totally on point, Catherine! I’ve been reading your blogs for nearly 20 years, since my own son was a baby and Birdie was just a gleam. My 19 year old is totally afraid of the phone. But in his case, he’s on the spectrum and not being able to see someone’s face while he’s talking to them freaks him out. We’re working on it.

    I find myself becoming that way, too, these days. Unfortunately, the phone has become (for me) the instrument of having to call and fight with people who have screwed up something (an insurance claim, my bank account, etc.). I dread making phone calls these days. This is just our modern world, I guess.

    Thanks for your brilliant (and entertaining) insights!

  20. AT says...

    So. My now husband and I endured a long distance relationship for 5 years. 2 of which were spent with me in the USA and him in Canada and another 1 year while he was in Sweden. He has been known to call my local Persian/Vietnamese place in the US from Canada and Sweden, sometimes at 1 am local time for him to place my takeout orders. He has also pretended to be me while calling credit card companies, banks, insurance companies, real estate offices. The love is real.

  21. Relatable!! I still hate making calls, even just to order pizza or see if a restaurant is open. But I can do it ;) Love the message in this, that even if you feel anxious about it, and it might turn out weird/awkward, that’s fine and not a big deal. Hooray!

  22. I grew up without cell phones, so of course like any teenager I talked on the phone. As soon as texting was invented, I HATED the phone and still do. I will have an hour long text conversation but absolutely HATE talking on the phone. But of course I do for business and household stuff and to talk to my parents (although my mom has learned to text, thank God). My teen daughter will not talk to friends on the phone (text, Insta, Snapchat instead) but she actually likes calling the doctor, food places, etc. Go figure.

  23. Anna says...

    Yes. I grew up with landlines (I’m 35) and I was thoroughly coached by my parents in phone etiquette as you describe it. Cellphones have changed EVERYTHING… and no one told me what to do! something I only recently grasped is that when someone in my contacts calls, I know it’s them and they know I know and I can answer the phone accordingly, rather than with the slightly wary HELLO?? that I grew up with.

  24. Marie says...

    This gave me a good chuckle. I was that petrified teenager. My mom used to torture me by saying I could get a pizza delivered if I called myself. Yeah, like that was going to happen. Now I’m the exact opposite. I’ll wait on hold for a phone attendant before using the online chat feature. I’ll call stores just to triple check they have what I need before I head out. I don’t remember when it changed, but I do remember the years of practicing what I was going to say before I dialed a number. I’m hoping my kiddos will have it easier than I did. So far my 7 year old gets mad at me if I don’t let him talk to the marketing/spam callers because he just loves to chat, and he’d order a pizza by phone in a heartbeat if I let him. Something tells me he’s going to be fine.

  25. Clare says...

    35 and I’d rather watch paint dry than make a phone call.

    • Ellen says...

      This.

  26. Toni says...

    I am 28 and am 100% with your kids on this one. I will choose doctors, car maintenance shops, hair salons, delivery options, etc. based purely on whether I have to call to make an appointment or not. If a website says “book appointment online,” then I’ll choose that one and discount any other factors, including distance. I’ll drive an hour if it means I don’t have to make a phone call.

  27. Matty says...

    I have an adorable mimicking almost 2 year old who is obsessed with making ‘phone calls’ and blabbering on the iPhone cradled in his ear/neck nook. It is behind me where has learned this behavior in the day and age of earbuds and text neck.

  28. Marisa says...

    We don’t have a landline, but my parents do. One day, the phone rang and we told my 5 year old to pick it up since I knew it was my husband. He took it off the hook, and looked at it— and was so confused! We actually had to tell him to put it to his ear! Haha – how different his childhood is then my own in some ways!

  29. Cheryl says...

    I’m a Boomer (last wave Boomer, but still) and I am neither pro nor con on phone calls. I still make and receive calls when necessary, although I never answer our (still functioning!) landline. But I noticed that during the Covid shutdown, my 21-year-old son, a college senior at an out-of-state school, made a special effort to personally call and have long conversations with his friends (just regular phone calls, no video). Sometimes he would make the calls while walking around the neighborhood. I found myself feeling proud of him for making the effort. Somehow I, an introvert, gave birth to an extrovert. Go figure!

  30. Sue Harris says...

    My recently turned 30 year old daughter is not a fan of talking on the phone–never has been. Texting is preferred, although she has been eager to Zoom call with us, something her dad and I both love and look forward to. Over the years since she has been on her own, I will sometimes call her just to hear her voice. I do this especially after some horrifying event in the news, just to reassure myself that she is safe and healthy and whole. Texting for me is just not the same, it is her voice I need to hear.

  31. Elise says...

    It just brings me back to when we had to call the landline of the boy we wanted to date and his father or his brother would pick up and then be like ‘Christopher, it’s for youuuu!’ screaming across their home. So cringing. I do miss the thrill though.

    • erin says...

      or the “erin, it’s a BOYYYYYY….. Why is a boy calling you??!!!”

  32. Andrea says...

    Man do I miss eavesdropping on landline convos! And the finesse it took to pick up on another phone to hear both sides without being detected. My grandma had a party line which was even more exciting. Why I wanted to hear any of these ordinary conversations, who the heck knows.

  33. Kiat says...

    Thanks for writting this. Now I get it when I ask my teen to call her aunt and she just goes cold turkey on me.

  34. As the (late 30s) mother of a young toddler, I’ve noticed this problem among my friends with older “kids.” I remember getting anxiety about making official phone calls as a teen — any situation in which I had to call someone I didn’t know. I don’t think this fear is a generational thing. It’s just now they have so many technological alternatives that we didn’t have, so they’re less frequently forced to do it.

    One of the best favors my mom did for me was to force me, kicking and screaming, to make these grown-up calls myself. It’s served me well because now, after nearly three years living in Italy, I’m able to do the same thing here — force myself to make the necessary calls (in a foreign language! eep!), even if it means feeling like a fool. Which I often do. But every time the person on the other end laughs at (with??) me and my terrible Italian, we also gain a sense of camaraderie. Of connection. This faceless person is just a person. And they know I’m just a person. And we’re both just trying to get something done. And it actually feels kind of nice after I hang up, pour myself a drink, and wipe away the pit sweats.

    • Faith says...

      I love this!

  35. Sarah says...

    The first time I called the movie theater to check movie times (pre-Fandango, still dial-up internet times), I did not know it was a recording. I was so nervous that I hung up and redialed maybe 20 times, never quite making it though the initial greeting. Which in my defense sounded like a real live person. My poor mother eventually caught on and had to exasperatedly explain to her otherwise capable pre-teen that the movie theater did not staff the phones and that I simply needed to sit through the recording a jot down the times. More than 20 years later she still loooooves to bring it up.

    • Courtney says...

      Oh my god, I forgot that movie theaters used to do this. Or we would… check the paper?!?!?!? It feels so quaint now.

  36. Vicki says...

    Love this!
    We’ve had a similar experience. In quarantine we’ve allowed our kids limited contact with a few friends including playing with the neighbors outside. This usually involves their mom texting me to see if they want to play. Then one day my neighbor told her kids she was done arranging, they could just run over and see if my kids were free. It was right after dinner so I was doing the dishes and watched watch as they walked up the driveway past the front door and around to the back yard (were they usually play) upon seeing that the kids weren’t out there they started walking away, without knocking on the door! I took pity on them and opened the back door, and asked if they wanted something and they were able to stammer out the story that their mom sent them over and could my kids please play. To which I said”of course knock on our door anytime” It was awkward, but know my kids run over to their house too (they have big back window they knock on instead of the front door – baby steps!) I love the new independence they have and a willing to try something new. I hear my boys planning “if no one’s at the window we’ll go knock on the door!”

    • Ana D says...

      This kind of explicit assist to kids worried about social norms is SO HELPFUL. You’re an idol to the kid version of me, Vicki.

  37. Nadine says...

    Any time I ask my 17yo if she left a message – ’cause you know, it seems warranted, the answer is gonna be no! And she talks SO loud on the phone. But she has to experience it at her job in a restaurant, which is good. If I gave her a scenario, tho, like leaving a message for our representatives to protest some crummy Congressional issue, she’d probably be all over that.

  38. Oh, my goodness! So good! Thank you for the introduction to Catherine!

  39. Allie says...

    I work in a mid-size tech company and the only employees with telephones are the sales org and the receptionist.

    It absolutely tickles me when an outside vendor (who is trying to sell something to me) manages to find my email address and sends me a message about how they need my direct extension. And I get to tell them NOPE! They almost never believe that we don’t have desk phones and it thrills me to no end to shock them that way.

    And then, as needed, simply block their email as spam;)

  40. GoldenMoon says...

    I have this book and love it for adults and kids alike! It’s at the top of my schooling for REAL LIFE SKILLS stack that I’m excited to share with my 2 kids this school year (from homeschool…eek).

  41. Claire says...

    I actually have the opposite problem: email and text anxiety! I don’t necessarily love phone calls, but I much prefer them to email and text because it is so, so much easier to pick up on emotion and tone of voice.

    I spend an inordinate amount of time drafting emails (especially at work) so that they strike a perfect balance–friendly yet mature, detailed yet efficient. It’s exhausting! And when I get an email that is brusquely worded, my brain automatically assumes that the sender hates me–even when I know intellectually that they don’t. More and more, I find myself drained at the end of the day because of all the emotional energy needed to pull myself out of negative thought patterns related to email.

    Plus, emails are far less efficient than phone calls in terms of building relationships. Just a few minutes on the phone with someone can build a surprising amount of rapport! Despite all of this, I still default to email communication at work–probably because it is what everyone else seems to prefer. Calling seems to be viewed as intrusive or rude, almost.

    Anyone else have email anxiety? Any tips!? :)

    • Anahera says...

      I have!
      Besides when it’s written down it’s all so definitive…like a contract. I prefer a phone call any day! Except when it does have to do with contracts…than I’d like everything per email first.

    • Jessica says...

      I think I know what you mean! I always get worried about the reply, too. At least with a phone call there’s likely to be some sort of a audible cue that’ll give you a hint as to how whoever you’re speaking to will react to what you say. With email/text? Nothing. I have numerous unread texts because I’m just too nervous to see how they react to what I’ve said! And I typically leave emails unread for a few days because of that anxiety, and also because I find the process of having to write a reply quite exhausting. I wish I could offer you some advice, but I suppose all I can say for now is that you’re not alone!

    • Anne St.Jean says...

      I still get palpitations when I see a new email in my inbox. In college, I had to keep my school email open at all times, because opening it again terrified me. Why? What was I afraid of?

      Nowadays my fear comes from ambiguous tones. My dad switched to email after getting off Facebook and he ends every sentence with an ominous period. He sounds angry no matter what he’s saying and there’s almost no way to make the correspondence feel more casual. We used to exclusively use Messenger and he’d use emojis and casual punctuation. Now it takes too long between messages, there’s too much pressure to fill empty space…I’m not a fan.

    • Anna says...

      I agree that written communication is way more exhausting and so much less efficient than just having a chat. My brain aches whenever various different people text or message me in one day. It takes so long to draft all the replies!

  42. Shannon says...

    How much do I love this!?!? A LOT. My mom asked for one thing for her birthday – a weekly phone conversation of at least one minute with our five year old son and perhaps something a little longer with our seven year old daughter. Its not going well. Infact, we just finished one of these calls, which involved long periods of total silence from our daughter and 60 seconds of full wrestle mania with our son as we tried to keep him from hanging up the call. This post could not have come at a more perfect time!

  43. Kate says...

    I absolutely get this. And I’m 35. I’ve struggled with your average phone call my entire life. I’ve never ordered delivery. I pushed out getting my driver’s license by 6 months because I was petrified to make the appointment over the phone. I have an elderly aunt who thinks we don’t speak because she doesn’t text. But I love talking to people (in person), so it’s a mystery to me as well! I’m not timid in any other way, so what really is the problem…?

    • I absolutely get this. And I’m 66. I’ve struggled with your average phone call my entire life! Thank god for email and texts.

  44. K says...

    I’m turning 30. I put video and phone calls in the same category. as long as your kid can facetime, and talk in person, that’s enough social skills to me!

    i love talking on the phone for customer service related issues, just so much faster than describing in text, and you can have a non-linear conversation.

    I also sometimes prefer audio call with my bf even because of the aforementioned ability to multitask, or ability to pace around without making him dizzy if i’m calling to vent lol.

    anyone i hate calling, i also hate video chatting, texting, and talking to in person :).

  45. Jess says...

    Loved this and love Catherine’s writing! I’ve tried to pre-order the book here in Aus but at the moment they’re not shipping internationally, which I’m sad about :( I hope I can get it eventually.

  46. R says...

    Throughout quarantine my friends and I have found the perfect way to communicate that doesn’t involve a lengthy phone call OR an awkward video chat: the facebook messenger voice clip.

    It’s awesome because you get to hear each other’s voice, ask questions, and keep a fun back-and-forth going, but neither of you runs the risk of getting stuck on the phone. Because you treat it more like a text, it’s also okay if you take a minute to answer. And no one has to see your face!

    AND (sorry, so many perks) you can delete the voice message before sending it, so if it comes out awkward or long-winded, your friend never has to hear it. It’s become my answer to everything.

  47. Sarah says...

    Okokok this was also a real issue in the 90s! For me, if no one else? When I was shy and 15 and not built for relationships or 1996, my parents made me phone in a pizza order every Friday night as a “character-building exercise,” which usually resulted in the restaurant staff (adorably/admirably) asking me if I was ok and safe. Based on my tears. There’s an element of the devil involved in phone calls, this I’m certain of.

    • Georgie says...

      I was also really shy and my parents did the same thing. From the time I was, I don’t know, maybe 12 or 13, if I wanted anything, like a haircut, to go to the movies, my mum would tell me that I could do it (and sometimes she would give me the money for it) but that I had to call up and make the appointment myself so I could get over it. It was agonising.

  48. Christy says...

    I despise phone calls. Frequent phone calls are necessary at my job, which bums me out daily. After 20 years of office work the phone still gives me wicked anxiety. See, once they have you on the phone, they have you by the throat. You can’t pretend you didn’t hear or refuse to respond or even take a minute to formulate a reply. You’re on the hook. Nowhere to run. Mano a mano. As a kid I used to chat on an old-fashioned cordless phone with my best friend happily for hours and hours, but the first time I had to make a phone call at my first office job, I got sick from the stress of it.

  49. Karin says...

    So accurate and made me laugh so hard! My 20-year-old almost had a nervous breakdown over an error in his college tuition bill. He kept emailing people and no one got back to him, so I told him to CALL and he could get it resolved in a day. He looked like his head was going to explode.

    We had to tell him that if he didn’t get it resolved, HE would be responsible for the $3,480 in question. Even that didn’t get him to call.

    He finally told me proudly last night that he managed to resolve the whole thing by text. I’ve never seen him so happy and relieved.

    It’s just mystifying to me how it’s so hard for them! Having been a kid/teen in the 70s, when we’d spend 3 hours a day on the phone, this is a whole other world.

  50. I love everything that Catherine Newman writes! Off to order her new book for my kids (and myself).

  51. Emma says...

    I’m a case manager and have to make/answer endless phone calls a day. Pretty much everyone I know has to talk on the phone at work.

    I guess you could find a job where you don’t need to use the phone but I don’t know what that would be to be honest.

  52. Samantha says...

    The best way to get over a fear of the phone is to work retail. You have to learn to talk to EVERYONE no matter their mood, and will develop internal scripts for polite small talk and quick answers to questions/requests

  53. Sophie says...

    Hi! 17-year-old here… it’s true that many people my age don’t enjoy phone calls, but we’ll still do them if we have to and generally know how to make one effectively. For example: do I particularly enjoy calling teachers/local politicians/my grandparents? Nope. Can I reasonably and maturely handle the conversation? Yes.

    I can’t speak for all, but I’d hazard a guess that if approached by parents with infographic instructions, most teens would consider it a bit condescending. Let us just figure it out :)

    PS — In the 3rd paragraph, I think the name of the app you’re looking for is TikTok (as opposed to TokTok). Even though I don’t personally have that app, some other user might be judging you, haha.

    • cg says...

      ^This made me laugh, and made my day.

    • Kaitlin says...

      *applause*

      The kids are alright.

    • Krista says...

      This reply cracks me up. Maybe you have a future in writing?

    • Audrey says...

      You’re a charming writer, Sophie. Thanks for chiming in with some actual perspective!

  54. Melanie says...

    I absolutely HATE speaking on the phone. HATE. I’m a millennial – or I guess cusp-Xer/early millennial before people starting hating! My stepdaughter who is 16, though, absolutely loves making phone calls and would rather do that than text! Go figure : )

  55. Kate says...

    I think about this a lot. If someone called to talk to my parents, everyone knew because we’d holler up the stairs, “Dad! (so and so) is on the phone!” In middle school a boy used to call me so often that my parents gave him an ultimatum that he could only call me every two weeks, which I was fine with. If someone was bugging me now by texting constantly, it would be a lot harder to have my mom put the kibosh on that! If mom was on the phone with her sister, we could hear her half of the conversation, or at least we knew that they’d talked and could hear if they were making plans for the families to get together. Now, my husband and I can have entire conversations in complete silence with people where we make plans, exchange news, receive updates, all without the other person knowing. We’re constantly saying, “did I tell you what so-and-so said?” and “I told mom we’d come for dinner tomorrow, is that okay?” The phone was a hub of our house growing and we didn’t at all eavesdrop (and no kid cares about who their parents are talking to) but I feel like there was this added connection of shared knowledge when we all had to talk on the phone, out loud, where other people could hear.

    Of COURSE, there are tons of reasons why cell phones and technology are much safer and better ways for people to communicate. There are a million reasons why someone shouldn’t be able to hear who someone else in their house is talking to! But I’ll always kind of be nostalgic for the days of racing to pick up a ringing phone before anyone else and that split second of anticipation and mystery before finding out who was on the other end of the line.

    • Claire says...

      Yes! You articulated this so beautifully. I think all the time about getting a landline for this very reason!

    • I used to baby sit for a family who didn’t have a landline (when I was in college). The first time I sat for them I didn’t have my cell phone charger with me and I remember consciously thinking “if there’s an emergency I will need to run over to the neighbor’s house to have them call 911”

      I also think my relationship with my grandparents in their later years (just 2015-2020) would’ve been SO MUCH closer if they’d have kept a landline. They were always forgetting to charge their phones or couldn’t hear it ring.

      For that reason, I have already communicated to my own parents that once they turn 70 I’m expecting them to reinstall a landline.

    • I used to baby sit for a family who didn’t have a landline (when I was in college in 2002). The first time I sat for them I didn’t have my cell phone charger with me and I was very stressed and remember consciously thinking “if there’s an emergency I will need to run over to the neighbor’s house to have them call 911.” The stress I felt really made me consider having a landline once we have children.

      I also think my relationship with my grandparents in their later years (just 2015-2020) would’ve been SO MUCH closer if they’d have kept a landline. They were always forgetting to charge their phones or couldn’t hear it ring.

      For that reason, I have already communicated to my own parents that once they turn 70 I’m expecting them to reinstall a landline.

    • Sue Harris says...

      Vivid memories of stretching the phone cord so we could at least walk around the corner for a semblance of privacy, even though everyone in the next room could still hear us.

    • Kate says...

      Tara, if I had kids I would 100% want to get a landline, exactly for this reason. I grew up in the country, so we didn’t have neighbors nearby, and I would be so scared if I lost my mobile! My parents are in their ’70s and I REALLY wish they had a landline. There was an instance recently where my mom was awaiting a really important phone call from the hospital and she missed it for many hours because there was something wrong with her cell phone. They’re still in the country and can only get clear reception in certain parts of the house, which can be really frustrating.

    • beth says...

      Tara, my son just turned 21 last night, but many years ago, right before he turned 2, he had a febrile seizure in the middle of the night and I had to call 911. It is the only time I’ve ever had to call for a family member (I’ve had to call 911 several times over the years at my job), and the experience was so stressful that I still to this day keep a landline. What if I couldn’t find my phone/it wasn’t charged/I couldn’t get reception/I somehow get pinged to a tower in another community and am calling the wrong 911 (it happens!!)? These things run through my brain, and I will probably always have a landline.

    • Jenny/AdventuresAlongTheWay says...

      @Beth, I just dialed 911 for my boyfriend two weeks ago, and it was surprisingly hard. I think your landline decision makes perfect sense. I couldn’t find either of our cell phones at first and was feeling a lot of stress. I had trouble typing in my pass code and had to do it more than once. Then I realized my data-only VOIP phone probably wouldn’t even dial 911, so then I had to find my boyfriend’s phone and get him to tell me his pass code (and he was having aphasia problems, so he couldn’t tell my the numbers and had to physically enter it). He finally did manage to tell me the code with difficulty (and I dialed 911 and we got the ambulance and help we needed), and I later wrote it down and now have it memorized. But the whole thing was terrifying. It’s made me reconsider a landline. For the moment, we are keeping our phones charged (his phone was also almost decharged so I had to find his charger to call his parents to tell them what was going on). We’re also trying to make sure I know the places he tends to keep his phone (since it’s the phone that will definitely work in emergencies). I should look into other options or figure out if my phone would work to dial 911. I don’t really want to add another expense (of a landline) into our budget. But I might do it eventually because it was very scary, and I was definitely not as dexterous as normal. (And my boyfriend is okay now and only had to spend a few hours in the ER. It was a migraine with very rare and scary stroke-like symptoms).

  56. Daniela says...

    I’m an emergency and flight team dispatcher.. And absolutely hate making phone calls in my personal life. I completely identify with your kids walking to the froyo place instead of calling about a flavor!

  57. Becky says...

    I don’t mind phone calls (not a zoom fan at all) but oh my if I have to leave a voice mail, the anxiety!

  58. Christina says...

    I grew up with landlines! No caller ID, either. We had to call and respectfully greet our friends’ parents before asking to speak with them on the phone. I know how to have a polite conversation over the telephone, and some of my job does involve speaking with customers on the phone. And yet – like so many of the other commenters here – nothing strikes fear in my heart quite like my cell phone ringing.

    Catherine, this piece was thoughtful and sweet, just like everything you do! And those kids trying to use a rotary phone – how funny! Their parents were so supportive.

    • Kari T. says...

      The cell phone ringing! The fear is real, the only time anyone has called my cellphone it’s been to relay terrible news. Landline ringing 9/10 it’s a charity or bot :/

      I like many phone calls at work to colleagues (or face to face), I find it much more efficient than email. That being said, sometimes I like to have a “paper trail” of a conversation so will initiate those via email.

  59. Katie says...

    Catherine is one of my very favorites, Waiting for Birdy has been my Bible of early motherhood and one time she even generously bought me a bra off her amazon earnings. What a human!!! I pre-ordered this book for my eldest who struggles with social cues and he LOVES this book. He is all fired up to make a chicken for Thanksgiving and will tell anyone who will listen he knows how to roast a chicken. (He’s 7 and virtually vegetarian, hates roast chicken and has yet to roast anything. As far as I know. This is the power of Catherine’s writing.)

  60. Allison says...

    The ziti thing, YES! I’m 28 and I 100% empathize with these teenage kids. I grew up calling my friends on landlines, but calling the bank, the Thai place, or anyone I don’t know well — terrifying, horrifying, nauseating.

  61. Naomi says...

    Ah the old rotary phone. My little (20yrs younger) sister was in a play in high school, directed by a student (not the drama teacher), where she had to use a rotary phone in an important scene. On opening night, she walked up to the phone, dialed, and then picked up the ear-piece… after the play I congratulated her on her overall amazing performance, and then gently showed her how to properly use a rotary phone (pick up the handle first, then dial). <3

  62. Hilary says...

    I love this video SO MUCH. They’re so earnest 😂😂😂.

    • El says...

      I loved the urgent, “what does zero sound like??”

  63. Olga says...

    “not unlike the way my husband would sooner drive 100 wrong miles than stop and speak to a human about where he’s trying to go.”

    My husband does this too! Why?!

  64. Ann says...

    That video is great! I grew up using a rotary phones in my grandparents homes and my parents had push buttons. I also bought that book for my son as a graduation gift from high school this year. It is so great!!

  65. Claire says...

    Wow, really? That’s my first reaction, haha!

    I’m 25 and LOVE phone calls. I dread FaceTime, but phone calls are the best. I’ll often ask my friends if they want to chat and we’ll set up hours long phone dates, often 2.5 hours long! It’s how my best friend and I keep in touch from across the country.

    I work with students and wonder if they’re feeling this way towards phone calls. From what I understand, they’re fine with phone calls. I wonder what this stems from!

  66. Anonymous says...

    Please, please, please teach your children how to properly and confidently make phone calls – it could help them land a job in the future!

    I am the hiring manager in an industry where excellent customer service is essential, and the first step in our interview process is calling candidates for short phone interviews. You better believe that I make notes when someone has an unprofessional voicemail message, a full or no mailbox, who answer the phone with “What?” or “Yeah?”, or who can barely maintain a conversation. If they can’t handle a phone call with me, how are they going to be successful when our customers call and need assistance?

    I actually struggle with this even with the people I do hire – employees who complain that a coworker hasn’t replied to their email or who are frustrated because of an email misunderstanding. It truly never even occurs to them to just pick up the phone and call the person. Which is a shame, because calling is usually the fastest and easiest way to get the answer you need!

    Truly, I get it – I’m in my 30s, and in my personal life I hate making calls too – but just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. In one of my first jobs, I had to call hundreds of people multiple times a year to follow up on an event invitation we sent them. It doesn’t take long before you realize it’s no big deal!

    • Clare says...

      You can hate making calls yet still be good at it.

    • Lainey says...

      Yes Clare!! I am on phone meetings all day and have no problem with professional calls and phone interviews any of it. However, I HATE PHONE CALLS. My friends and I schedule them ahead to catch up, I never pick up if it’s unexpected. I will actually text back “hey – whats up?” instead of picking it up. Professionally, I’m in a different mode and of course pick up etc. I’m 35 and grew up with land lines. Still hate it.

  67. Charlotte says...

    In my 30s, consider myself lucky to still be able to call my 97 year old grandmother. She lives independently, in her own home, and since my grandfather’s death, alone. So the phone calls are important. She’s also delightfully funny, wise, and kind. Even so, I still have to coach myself to make every call, asking my partner to help me remember what’s new with me these days so I have talking points (not that there’s a lot happening, with COVID). And even then it’s still HARD. Phone calls seem to remove all of the visual cues we rely on to interpret each other. It makes conversations feel stilted and forced.

    So I’ve made it my goal to learn from her. Having talked on phones for the better part of a century, my grandmother is comfortable and at ease conversing this way. I try to note how long she pauses for, how she fills gaps in the conversation, and what she does when we both talk at the same time. It’s still difficult, but not as difficult as it once was. Especially as phone conversations seem to be somewhat of dying art, I’m grateful I get to learn ease, grace and confidence from one of the best :)

    • Sarz says...

      Thank you for sharing this, Charlotte! I’m in my 30s too, and felt myself nodding through your entire statement. What a gift your Phone Coach Gran sounds like. :) Having never had a grandparent, I’m a touch envious. Of course, I could always phone the assisted living facility down the street from me to see if they have some sort of matching program. Now, for the hurdle of that initial call, ha!

    • jane says...

      I don’t know, I think the key to phone call conversations like you describe here are feeeeling the conversation and each other instead of relying on visual cues. It requires a bit of actual authenticity. It’s quite intimate actually.

      Turns out we can’t just “phone in” a good phone conversation : D buh dump dump… You’re welcome.

    • Madi says...

      What a lovely comment.

  68. Kara says...

    One of the things I don’t like about phone calls is you don’t know how long it’ll take, and I’m such a people pleaser that I don’t want to cut the person off to say goodbye….it feels rude. Everyone in my family (especially the long talkers) say just tell them you have to go! But then when I try it and it doesn’t work (often with those same long talkers haha!), I feel even worse trying again.

    • Sarz says...

      Oh gosh, I relate! I adore my father and sister, but I’m regularly on the phone with them for 2-4 hours in one go. Can an ear go numb? Yes. It. Can. :-o

    • jane says...

      Assert your self. In a kind way but still, be firm.

  69. Tabitha says...

    I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s but I was absolutely terrified to make phone calls, especially to strangers/companies. My mom would force me to do it and I’d spend HOURS agonizing over my “script” before calling. Then in high school I got a job at an optometrist office– and my job was to call people and let them know their contacts and glasses had arrived!! I tried so many tricks, such as drawing a face on a piece of paper and pretending I was talking to it instead of the person on the other end of the line, but to no avail. Every day felt like torture… until somehow after an entire summer of making phone calls almost daily I was relatively cured! Now I love phone calls, which is good, because my husband and I have been separated since March because of COVID (he’s working in England right now). Video calls make us both nervous so we have a 1.5 hour conversation every night and save the video chats for special treats. :)

  70. Cate says...

    One of the things that I find that email/text/twitter/DMs has slowly changed is people largely only know how to converse with people they know.

    My daughter is 8, and you can still see that spontaneity in playground interactions when the kids decide to be ‘friends’ for an hour or so. But trying to make light conversation with the parents while the kids play? Very difficult, a lot of the time. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. Our IRL social skills seem to be slowly eroding as our heads are drooped over our phones too busy digitally socializing. The future of talking on the phone? Who knows what will happen, but I think the fact it has increasingly become an anxiety trigger for many is more a statement on how our IRL discourse skills are being hampered by digital socialization.

    This is one of the reasons I’m very reluctant for my kids to have a phone. As soon as they have that in their pocket, I wonder how often they’ll want to look up?

  71. E says...

    I’m 33 and truly would prefer a phone call. Maybe it’s my line of work (sales/account management) but it’s way faster and easier to clearly articulate what you need.

    I once worked a corporate job where there was a small FedEx issue and everyone above me (making six figures while I sure wasn’t) was floored when I just up and called them.

    Understand the anxiety from a teenager’s POV but I’m all about the efficiency (most times) of a phone call.

    • Kate says...

      Phone calls are so much more efficient!! In my experience one phone call can get you waaaaay further, much faster than emails bouncing back and forth for a week or more.

    • Agnes says...

      Yes!! I work in a small building with other therapists and guess what – most of the time we go to each other’s offices to ask questions. I never use the phone to call colleagues, and email is used mostly to forward actual information rather than ask questions. Haha. Maybe because we talk for a living? It’s so much quicker, easier, you end up getting way more information, and you get a little visit in too!

  72. Emma says...

    I have worked in a call center and have also worked a phone-heavy job doing internal sales support for a pharmaceutical company. As a result, I am extremely good at phone conversations. AND I STILL HATE THEM. The only person I will answer the phone for is my mother and there is an understanding between my husband and I that he will always be the one to call and order food. Oh, anxiety, what are we gonna do with you?

  73. Tippi says...

    Man I am the complete reverse. I’m 27, and I love phone calls! I call my friends all the time, and they call me, “just to chat” for 5 min or for however long we each have, to confirm something, to get details, to say “i’m at the end of your block” etc. It is SO MUCH QUICKER than endlessly typing and back-and-forthing, you can hear their voice and more nuance, you can also walk around at the same time, run errands, sit in the park and SEE THE PARK (not your screen). I also sometimes put my phone on a call with my sisters or my mother and just have it going while I’m cooking or doing random house things. Finally, I’m an attorney and similar to the other attorney who commented, lots of times phone calls are the quickest way to get info or to discuss a problem which would otherwise take forever to email about. Ha! I even asked my therapist if we could do phone calls instead of video calls.

  74. Agnes says...

    I remember writing scripts for myself before calling businesses etc. when I was a super-shy teenager (before cell phones and internet!!). It works!! And if you get the curve ball, well that’s how flexibility is born, right? ;)

    • Natalie says...

      Yes, I love thinking about this as an opportunity to grow resilience!

  75. Cheryl says...

    My kids are exactly the same way! (18 year old twins). They’re afraid of feeling or being awkward. I’ve been telling them lately that everyone feels awkward and awkward is the new cool. I say embrace the awkward! Ha ha. My daughter writes practice scripts too, and that helps a lot. I can’t wait to read your book!

  76. Bec says...

    I’m in my 30s, so I grew up without Twitter/FaceTime/etc., but as a kid I definitely wrote out little scripts when my mom FORCED me to call the local sandwich shop. Fast forward to my teen years, and I was secretly pre-composing solos instead of actually improvising during my jazz lessons. Whoops. Being put on the spot is hard!

  77. Marina says...

    Our 13 year old, after placing food order by phone (which she volunteers to do sometimes, yay) said “My heart is beating so fast, I can’t feel my legs”. And another time “I panicked and gave them your name instead of mine”. :)

  78. Jessie says...

    I’m in my late 20s and so the opposite of this – would much rather pick up the phone for a quick chat that spend twice as long going back and forth over text or email. I’ve lived far away from my family and friends since I was 17 and had a long-distance relationships for 3 years, so perhaps this forced me to get comfortable talking on the phone and now I enjoy it! Plus you can multitask! And it was a lifesaver for passing the time back when I had a long car commute.

  79. Amy says...

    42 year old here and I hate talking on the phone and even more so want to die a little bit when I get a voicemail. Sometimes I’ll go weeks before I listen to a voicemail. It has something to do with anxiety for me, hating clipped conversations where you are expected to make a fast decision, and with me being a big introvert.
    With a text I can choose when to respond, taking my time with the right words.

    • jane says...

      Voice mail is also my nemisis – it’s just so stressful.

    • Jenny/AdventuresAlongTheWay says...

      My voicemails forward to my email and are transcribed as a message (via Google Voice). It is much easier and less stressful for me to read them than listen to them. It also provides some humor when it is trying to transcriber someone with a southern accent…

  80. Rue says...

    Talk with your kids about how to determine what role someone has in a system or organization! Relatedly, talk with your kids about how to address people with different levels of authority.

    It blew my mind as a new adult when I learned I could say, “I’m having trouble with X. Could you let me know who’s the best person to talk with about this?” Rather than, “Can you fix X for me?”

    This avoids the terrible situation where you assume the manager does the thing, when in reality the person you overlooked or don’t know is responsible for doing the thing. And hopefully the manager is kind about it, rather than being all, “oh, haha, Kate does all my spreadsheets, I’d be lost without Kate!” while making 3x Kate’s salary.

    I’m a college professor in the southeast US. Many students have clearly been drilled on saying ma’am and Mrs. Whoever but nothing else. I got to a point this summer where I just wanted to weep every time someone sent me an email, “Hey Mrs. Whoever, I want to register for your class.” Okay, great, but I am Dr. Whoever, Creator of Knowledge, and I do not operate the registration system.

    • E says...

      Wow this language is so helpful. Especially when I am lost and do need help but don’t want to pull a Karen and ask for the manager :)

    • Maeve says...

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!! If more people calling with complaints knew to ask who they should talk to, instead of just launching into an argument, maybe bottom-rung employees would be abused less over the phone. I wish this was common knowledge, like knowing not to ask when a woman is due to give birth.

    • AG says...

      “Relatedly, talk with your kids about how to address people with different levels of authority.”

      How DO you address people with different levels of authority? I thought treat everyone the same way you want to be treated – regardless of authority or power or title. Unless it’s protocol – like how to approach the Queen or the President or something specific to culture.

    • Bonnie says...

      AG – she said how… To not assume that the person they’re reaching is the one to handle the issue.

    • Rue says...

      AG, I agree that it really is about treating everyone the same, but I think too often people focus on their own emotions and fail to listen, which ends up coming across as rude to people on all different levels of the ladder.

      I made that mistake in my first job after college. I thought that for *me* to be treated well by others at work, I should “be allowed to” do things like say whatever ideas I have in the middle of an important meeting. I didn’t understand that actually other people’s experience and authority means they earned the ability to run the meeting, and if I wanted my own ideas to be respected, I had to take the time and consideration to make sure they were helpful contributions, and then bring them to the table in ways that were welcome. I thought “being treated the same” meant something like equal speaking time in a meeting. I didn’t consider that “being treated the same” meant that people using authority and seniority (appropriately) at work were people who put a ton of time and consideration into their work, and the ideas I was seeing them share in a meeting had YEARS of thought and experience and training behind them, so they weren’t the same as my stream of consciousness newly minted graduate ideas.

      Basically, to treat everyone the same, I had to understand what is behind different levels of authority, and think about the implications of other people having earned qualifications, whether that’s through work experience or graduate degrees or whatever. It eventually ties all the way back to asking who can help you solve a problem, because you’re respecting that other people having experience, and you’re not assuming everyone else is there just to solve your problems for you.

    • AG says...

      @BONNIE when I contact customer service – I do assume I will receive service since I am a customer. Do I assume I get the service that I want? One can only hope.

      @RUE I understand what you’re saying. On topic of phone convos – a teenager calls customer service for the first time, teen has no way of knowing the background/knowledge/experience of the receiver. how should teen speak? with clear and respectful tones, the same way teen wishes people speak to them. Same applies to calling take-out, delivery, older relatives, your congressman, DMV, CONED etc.

      I’ve been on both sides of the phonecall- the clueless and the knowledgeable. And what I find most effective is to treat everyone the same way. In reality though, someone somewhere will always play the “do you know who i am/what i know/what I’ve been through?” card.

  81. eliza says...

    I’m 35 – I can happily MAKE most calls and answer when I don’t recognize the number, but now that usually the only calls I receive from family are when there’s something BIG (emergency, huge personal announcement, favour) or it’s a pocket dial – I get anxiety whenever my phone rings and it’s a family member or friend thinking “something must be wrong!” “what do they need me to do?”

  82. AzureSong says...

    So true. And let’s not get into physical letters. My 16 year old daughter wrote the address along the top, blocking the place for the stamp (even though I specifically said, “Leave space for the stamp!”). Then when we went to the blue mailbox, she couldn’t figure out how to get it to “suck in the letter.” (“Baby, it’s not an ATM. Pull the handle.”)

  83. Irena says...

    Sorry. Parents need to teach their children that social media is NOT the only or exclusive way to communicate.

    Starting at an early age, they must, if necessary, be forced to make calls to grandparents, etc. (even if the GPs text, do video chats, etc on the phone).

    It is essential that no matter what the future brings in terms of technology, that human beings know how to converse, in person and on the phone.

    These are becoming lost skills and frankly, I blame a lot of parents who refuse to educate their children to a broader range of social and business skills and speaking is one that will still be needed and valued in the future.

    If you can do video chats, why not chats with JUST audio? I have NO tolerance for parents who allow their children to NOT learn needed social skills. If the kids don’t see it modeled or required, when will they ever learn to speak.

    A kid doesn’t know what to do when you call for a pizza and you’re given another option? Seriously. Maybe it’s because they’re not interacting in a regular back/forth fashion with real people in real conversations (I am NOT anti-text. But texting is NOT a substitute for conversation. EVER.)

    It’s shocking to me to learn that kids are intimidated by talking in real time to another human. Worse, that parents are not making their children make real phone calls to stay in touch. I just don’t get it.

    Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok…these are NOT substitutes for one-on-one, highly personalized conversations via video or phone (Again, if you can talk on video, why not with just audio?)

    • Emily says...

      whew. I think if people don’t have a preference for phone calls (both making them and receiving them), why force it and slam someone’s parenting skills in the process? just me though.

    • Meg says...

      Irena- I see what you’re saying but at what point can we consider telephone calls to be an outdated technology that isn’t very useful in modern life? I am a fully functioning, socially fulfilled adult who literally never needs to make phone calls. I hate phone calls but I’m fine and well-adjusted in person :)

      Should we also teach kids to use VCRs, rotary phones and record players? I don’t agree with your premise that not talking on the phone is the same as lacking social skills generally. Social skills are important whereas disappearing technology is not.

    • Kara says...

      Irena, please be aware that some people do not communicate well via just voice to ear. I have minor auditory processing issues to where if I can’t see someone’s face, my brain takes much longer to process what they’re saying to me. Phone calls are draining and sometimes painful for this reason–I can’t tell you the last time I wasn’t fully sweating at the end of a call. (Real fun taking calls at work, let me tell you!) Clearly YOU value phone calls as the most important form of communication, but maybe step out of your own shoes from time to time to understand someone else’s perspective.

      I get it if we’re dealing with very out of touch with technology great grandparents–yes, call them. But even my very out of touch with technology father in his 70s has a cellphone that accepts video calls, and he understands how to answer them. So to reverse your question, if someone can take a video call, what is wrong with using that over an audio only phone? (Call them back if you need to put some clothes on!)

    • Jessica says...

      Telephone calls are outdated? Really? I can’t count how many calls I’ve had to make over the last few months- GP consultations, therapy sessions, keeping in touch with friends both young and old- and it’s made me so grateful that we have this technology. I’m only 18, but I love talking to people on the phone. In fact, I’ve had 3 phone calls today! Phone calls aren’t disappearing anytime soon. VCRs, rotary phones and record players *are* outdated so it’s not really a fair comparison, whereas there’s no true alternative or successor to the humble phone call

    • SG says...

      Irena, I agree with your premise, but your tone is very condescending. Do you have children? If you did, I would hope you would recognize that parents have a never-ending list of responsibilities, including instilling values, trying to model positive behaviors, teaching kids basics of literally EVERYTHING while also trying juggle our own jobs and perhaps a tiny slice of personal time. So we may not go over the basics of a phone call. Keep in mind these same kids would do loops around any adult in terms of Zoom, webex, coding or other current technology. I agree wholeheartedly that we all need to teach kids skills but in the middle of this pandemic and when we are expected to do 5x what we are currently doing, I do not think that chastising parents is the right approach. We are all trying to do our very best and it is so F***ng hard right now. And video and audio are two totally different beasts. If anything, I thought this was a lighthearted, humorous read to remind us that we still need to teach the very basics, as any generation before us did. And each generation will change and adapt, and life will go on.

    • Isabelle says...

      This is incredibly condescending. Others have already touched on the major points but it’s important to realize that children and young adults are doing a lot of things for the very first time, and it takes a while to become comfortable. It also takes time to identify other issues like social anxiety or ASD that might affect a child’s ability to converse “normally” with others. As a kid, I had crippling anxiety and was 100% sure that everyone was laughing behind my back at all times. Having to make a phone call where you can’t see the person’s face (or don’t know who is even going to answer the phone) only amplifies that anxiety. Couple that with classroom environments where kids are punished for speaking out of turn, and you can see how a child might be anxious about that situation. My parents did nothing but support me – that’s just how kids are sometimes, and I am now a fully functioning adult. Just because a thirteen year old isn’t great at small talk doesn’t mean that the entire generation is spiraling into disaster. For the most part, kids are interacting with people CONSTANTLY (parents, teachers, coaches, friends, etc.) and will have plenty of practice in one-on-one conversation. It’s often not the parents’ fault, nor is it their sole responsibility. It takes a village, and I can’t think of anyone I know who didn’t figure it out by the time they moved out on their own. Give the kids (and the parents!) a break!

    • Rashmi says...

      This is the rant equivalent of asking people to learn how to drive stick or speak Latin or know how to work a pager or use a rotary phone…. i can go on and on and on. I am pretty sure these teens you are so angry on are more adept than you at interacting with people over the Internet and can probably compose better emails than you possibly could. Forcing outdated technologies down someone’s throat just marks you as a technophobe.

    • AG says...

      IRENA – You speak the truth and I am here for it! And also here for the comments that don’t agree with you – good points everyone!

      RASHMI – I see you’re very adept in describing your feelings in internet-comment speak. You paint a violent picture! Using the phone for audio calls is not outdated technology – people do it all the time (even teenagers). Driving a stick is useful when you rent a car in other countries, pagers/rotary phone haven’t seen those a while not sure why you’re so against it. I agree with Latin – very rarely I hear someone use it altho useful when attending mass with the Pope maybe?

  84. LB says...

    The anxiety about being less than perfect is exactly what I thought about when reading this too. “Going off the rails” feels (to me) like such an intense fear to have about phone calls generally — but it makes complete sense given the cultural obsession with perfection and control.

    Also, does anyone else here have the opposite problem, feeling mega awkward on video chat as opposed to the phone? Including but not limited to:
    What do I do with my face? Should I apologize and explain my often disheveled appearance upfront? Why does every chat even with friends feel kind of like a job interview?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha yes! video chats are the worst. zoom birthday parties are my personal hell. :)

    • Paige says...

      1000000x times yes!!! I loathe zoom calls for any reason, but most of all SOCIAL ZOOMS. They should be banished forever!

    • Anna says...

      God yes, Zoom calls are hideous. They are way worse than phone calls or e-communication for me. They’re so tiring for some reason. My friend took a screenshot while four of us we were on Zoom and my face looks so strange and unnatural, with this false stiff rictus grin! I can never understand why people opt for video calls over phone calls but I suppose it’s just what you grew up with.

  85. CEW says...

    I fully went into this article thinking, “Okay, boomer,” but this was actually really pleasant and understanding and thoughtful and light-hearted and I thank you for that. :-)

  86. Sam says...

    I am 35, and before I got my first job in my current career as a lawyer, I also had phone anxiety. 8 years into practicing the type of law that I practice (mostly transactional), I no longer have this issue, because from experience, you have a script, and also at some point, I realized that I would use any method to get the information that I want as long as it is FAST. I have time for a 30 sec phone call to get the information I need to finish the documents TODAY, but I don’t have time to email them and wait for a reply and then read that reply then go back into the documents to edit them. A lot of people, no matter how intelligent, are also poor email readers. I can’t recall the number of times where I email people to ask 3 questions, they only answer 1, and I have to ask the other 2 again. Or, you ask question like, “do you want Option A or Option B”, and they answer “yes.” a lot of time is wasted that could have been saved if this was resolved over the phone. I don’t have the luxury of emailing 1 person 20 times to get an answer.

    In my personal life, I also found it super helpful that as I got older, the anxiety of the conversation “going off the rails” lessened because there are no consequences. If the pizza oven is down, and they ask me if I want the ziti, there are 3 answers: “yes” “no” “I don’t know, I will call back”, and it’s over. If I don’t call back, who cares? there are no “real” consequences to being caught off guard in that context…from having worked retail jobs, the person on the other end DO NOT CARE if you want the ziti.

    • Natalie says...

      Yes to all of this!

  87. Sarah says...

    In the age of COVID, my weekly calls with my parents have become video calls, and I find myself missing regular phone calls – mostly because I can no longer multi-task. I used to talk to my mom while we were both commuting home from work, or hands-free/on speaker while cleaning my kitchen or starting dinner. Now that we’re looking at each other, when we run out of things to say (which is sooner than it used to be, since we can’t go anywhere or do anything to generate stories), we say goodbye and hang up. But I do understand that they want to see me – I’m 7.5 months pregnant and we haven’t been able to be together in person since January.

    On the other hand, my friends and I have gone from mostly just texting to texting + scheduled video calls, and that’s been really nice. We’re pretty spread out these days, and without video calls I wouldn’t get to see how they decorated their new houses or the cocktail they just poured, or the cake my friend made for a picnic with another friend to enjoy on their respective blankets in a backyard together in our hometown (Amherst, MA, where I believe Catherine lives!).

    For phone calls related to getting stuff done/scheduling etc., I still get a little anxiety jump when I have to do that, but it gets easier with practice. It’s a great idea to have a script and to know the key thing you need to get out of the conversation.

  88. Em says...

    I’m 32 and same. I chose my doctor, hair stylist, and massage therapist all based on the fact that they have online scheduling and I’ll never have to call. I talk to my mom once per week on the phone but besides that, if anyone calls me I assume it’s a butt dial or they’re calling to tell me somebody died.

    • Julie says...

      Haha! 40 here and I feel the exact same.

    • Amy says...

      I’m 37 and can totally relate. I talk to my mom every few days but everything else better be available online or I’m not interested. :)

  89. Bonnie says...

    Ahhhh … Catherine Newman. I needed you today. I needed your wit, your outlook … a smile toward the end of a rough month. You’ve made me smile, and it started the moment I say your name on the byline. Thank you for sharing your gift with me today.

  90. Lauren E. says...

    I’m 35 and I completely feel this. Customer service live chat has absolutely saved my life. I think it stems from anxiety, and not being able to properly express myself in a natural conversation. I also fear going to parties where I don’t know anyone.

    • Amy says...

      Yes to ALL OF THIS. I feel seen.

  91. Mary Beth says...

    While I realize that much as been written and discussed about the future of social media and the seemingly constant use of phones by many people. What amazes me is how many of these comments reflect this. What does it say to you about the future of human conversation and interactions?

  92. Also hate talking on the phone and would choose email or text over a phone call any day of the week. I do have to talk on the phone and zoom calls a lot at work. But between coworkers, I’d much rather email or use our internal IM platform. I have a woman on my team in her 50s who HATES technology and wants to talk on the phone for any and everything. I prefer email so decisions are documented and easily referenced in the future. She said it’s a generational thing, but another coworker is the same age as he and also prefer emails/IM.

    I can see how it’s going to harder to teach phone usage to this generation of kids since practically none of us has a landline and so much happens over text. Who do you call besides grandma?? I will have to make sure that out sons learn phone etiquette when they are at the right age (son is 2, I’m pregnant with #2 due in December). I remember practicing answering the phone A LOT when I was a kid and got a ton of practice since I was 1 of 5 kids! I vividly remember my parents having to have a phone etiquette discussion with my little sister. Someone would call her, she’s say hello, and then quickly would say “who is this?” Lol. It came off so bad so they had to coach her on that. But that won’t be a problem with our kids thanks to caller ID!

    • Christina says...

      Hi Lisa! One thing I’ve been thinking about doing with my someday-kids, if I’m able, is having them call their state and local representatives to discuss issues about which they’re passionate. I read an article recently that many ultra-conservative, evangelical families are teaching their kids from a young age to have a political voice, and it’s important to me to do the same. I remember writing a letter to my city councilman when I was about 10 years old, asking for repairs for a road near our house. I was sick of it because it made my teeth ache every time we drove down it, and my mom put a pen and paper in my hand!

      Now – I don’t have kids yet. So this is just an idea! I’m sure all parents, especially right now, are just doing their best. xox

  93. Kate says...

    My 15 year old boy, when I suggested he go for walks while talking to a friend on the phone (walk-and-talks, one of my favorite things), was entirely PUT OFF by the suggestion.

    Talking on the phone is weird, I don’t like it, etc.

    He’ll do video calls or messaging, but he really, really doesn’t like talking on the phone.

  94. Aimee Hesterman says...

    LOL! The awkward silence kid is totally my youngest – both when he is initiating the call AND when her picks up an incoming call!!! We need the book…

  95. Colleen S says...

    I am 37 and I sometimes dread phone calls. Mainly if they’re calling me for job interviews or if it is something that causes general anxiety (like complaining to apartment management). I am non-confrontational, and have become even more so since emailing and texting became more popular. I am better at expressing myself on the page, though if you get me angry enough over the phone, I will not be the nice person people think I am.

  96. R says...

    I’m in my 30s and I absolutely cannot handle talking on the phone. I grew up chatting for hours on landlines, and there are still one or two friends I’ll chat with today, but other than that… my god.

    I have a few important phone calls to make that I’ve been putting off for MONTHS because I’d rather suffer all the various negative consequences than make the call and get it over with.

    I’m sure it all stems from anxiety. The dread is so much worse if it’s a call about work or my health, rather than quickly asking if a business is open. I can do that. Also, the amount of relief I feel when it goes to voicemail, and I get to leave a message or just hang up knowing I tried, at the very least? Immense.

    • l says...

      I’m 32 and feel the same way.

  97. Isabelle says...

    I feel like the phone call anxiety is somewhat universal, but younger generations are able to put off the inevitable longer because there are different tools available, like texting, emails and chat. I think phone calls in general are unnatural because we are hardwired to take note of body language and facial expressions. If someone has social anxiety or low self esteem (what kid doesn’t?) it’s even more troubling. We all have to learn to do them eventually, so those are helpful tips for a kid who is nervous.

    I also think it’s silly to shame kids for not knowing how to use obsolete technology like a cassette or a rotary phone. I know the video is in jest, and I think it’s amusing for a lot of adults, but for a kid it can come off as shaming or criticism. We may feel like it was “harder” for us, but in reality it’s just DIFFERENT. Sure, I had to carry around a binder of CDs, but I didn’t have to deal with teenage politics on social media. You may have had to walk the streets in the rain to drop off copies of your resumé with potential employers, but you didn’t have to create seventeen different styles of applications and fill out confusing web forms for each job application. Things might be more convenient, but it doesn’t mean the skills are simpler to learn or that kids aren’t being challenged. Being a kid or a teenager can be really hard!

    • Kara says...

      Isabelle, I love your comment! You’ve hit the nail on the head. Anyone who came of age pre-internet just didn’t have a choice and was forced to get over what I agree is an “un-natural” form of communication.

    • suki says...

      Unfamiliarity with using archaic technology aside, I feel like the level of anxiety around vocal phone calls is in exact relationship to the use of voice recognition technology and the ubiquity of the, “this call may be recorded for *quality control*”, message.

      No one want their voice recorded and aggregated by data bankers. It is wrong and we all intuitively know it. I feel like this is a huge part of the innate resistance people feel today. But it also feels like so many prefer to go into denial and just let it happen rather than exercise their civic duty and do the work that leads to it being abolished.

    • Emily says...

      Love the generosity of this comment! I think every generation struggles with some form of communication/technology that’s not of our time. (We need only look at our older relatives on Facebook.)

  98. I’m a therapist in private practice and come across this ALL THE TIME. It’s almost akin to speaking in public. People report having such big fears when it comes to making phone calls, and I’ve been there too! I always suggest to people to practice by starting with people they know. Just a quick call to mom to say hello! The same as I suggest to people who feel nervous about speaking to strangers (like asking for directions or simply saying hello), to go to Trader Joe’s and talk to the cashiers- they’re super friendly and will carry the conversation. These things act like training wheels, they’re relatively low risk and can help you get started! Fortunately for myself I am now in place in life where I really don’t care what other people think and so I’m less worried about messing up when I’m giving a public speech or calling an ice cream place to ask what time they close. 🙃

  99. HMM says...

    I’ve thought about this a lot. My job makes it impossible to fear the phone, but many of my late-20s, early-30s peers would rather do anything but dial a number. Even for something as inconsequential as ordering takeout: If they can’t order online, then they’re not eating there at all. I think it comes down to two things: 1. a desire to avoid the unknown at all costs and 2. the anxiety of possibly being less than perfect. I worry that this might have ramifications down the line that we don’t expect.

    I do admit, though, that I don’t often call my friends just for fun. That’s just not how we’ve ever communicated!

  100. katie says...

    I haven’t truly enjoyed talking on the phone since Jr. High. I spent hours on our one phone, which was attached to the kitchen wall, talking to my friends about absolutely nothing. The chord was stretched so long so I could find privacy I’m surprised it didn’t need duct tape to hold it together. I remember one summer day my Grandpa continually tried to call us but all he heard was the busy signal. Within the week we has call waiting. My parents didn’t go cordless until, well, never because they switched to cell phones before they needed to.

    Memories.

    Anyway, I know it’s infinitely easier to text, use apps, order on-line; however, I do want to make a plug for calling (YIKES) your favorite restaurant instead of using delivery apps. My husband and I make it a point to do this when possible so as to not cut profits from an already hurting industry.

    • Isabelle says...

      My problem with calling restaurants is that most of the time, I can barely hear the host/hostess on the phone! All I hear is background noise. I feel like I have to repeat my order at least three times for them to hear me. Take note, restaurant owners!

  101. Agnès says...

    I’m 47 and I’m just like your kids. It takes me at least a week to answer a phone call. My friends know that. But normal people don’t, so I always have to brief them on the topic. When the phone rings, it is ALWAYS at the wrong time, I’m either occupied or very very occupied. I’m just not available. I am so glad you’ ve written this piece, I feel less weird! the video is so hilarious!

  102. A says...

    I am 23 and I still hate talking on the phone. There’s just something about it that is so terrifying– probably the fact that, like your son mentioned, it can veer off the rails so quickly. I find making scripts very helpful so I at least say what I need to say even if I get flustered. I have no problem talking to my mom though, we can talk for hours :-)

    • Rebecca Pytell says...

      Same!

  103. Mary says...

    I grew up with landlines 📞 but i too dread talking in person now. I like your kids would prefer to order something in person than deal with someone over the phone. Even chatting to a friend is not something I find easy and I don’t remember finding it difficult when dinosaurs roamed the earth just not any more. 🦕 I’m all about messaging.

  104. Kim says...

    I love this! And it’s so true! Bought the book for my 3 kids (14, 12, 10) and will be sending it as gifts for all future bdays for nephews/nieces. An updated etiquette book for the next generation, brilliant!