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Teaching Our Teens Telephone Skills: Overcoming Their Fears

Staying at home more? It’s the perfect time to improve those rusty phone skills.

My 18-year-old will do anything to avoid talking on the phone. When she had to return a phone call recently, she freaked out so badly she hung up. She insists that in today’s smartphone era, this method of communication is archaic.

But that’s not the case—at least when it comes to adulthood, job interviews, and jobs. Someday phone skills may not be critical, but we aren’t close to that time, says Dr. Stephanie Hartselle, M.D., clinical associate professor at Brown University and spokesperson for the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “There’s a need to practice social skills in person and on the phone,” she adds.

“I Hate Phone Calls”

Teens like my daughter don’t necessarily have a phobia—which is actually a type of anxiety disorder—about making and receiving phone calls. It’s usually more about avoidance due to lack of exposure, explains Hartselle, which can heighten worry about making calls.

“Though they may resist strongly, teens need to be expected to make appointments on the phone, answer calls, and converse with strangers,” Hartselle says. “Parents can start by having teens make low-stakes calls to relatives and having a duration of time during which they need to maintain the conversation.” 

After practicing with family, teens can then move up to more anxiety-provoking calls, says Hartselle. Making appointments or ordering takeout food are quick options to log some phone practice. “Teaching the teen brain that those worries can be tolerated helps them be able to tackle issues beyond just making a call,” says Hartselle. It’s okay for teens to feel uncomfortable, and making peace with this will help teens tolerate higher-stakes calls, such as inquiring about a job or engaging in a college admissions interview.

I ended up typing a script on my computer for my daughter to follow. This eased her anxiety a bit, as she didn’t have to worry about what to say. This girl has been doing her own laundry for years and can do high-level math problems, yet the phone is more intimidating for her than these tasks. With practice, she’ll get there. 

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