Parenting Disconnect

Of all the things that I thought I would need to teach my children, using a payphone never broke the top 500.

Why would I need to teach them to use a payphone? Doesn’t the phone have instructions written on it? Who doesn’t know how to use a payphone?

But then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how New Yorkers needed pay phones due to the spotty cell phone service and lack of power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s recent devastation. Apparently, many 20-somethings had never used a payphone before and they weren’t sure what to do.

I was appalled at first but the more I thought about it the more I realized that I have not needed to use a payphone in over 20 years so why would someone 20 years my junior need to?

And, more importantly, why would my kids need to use one?

In the time it would take my kids to find a working pay phone they could ask someone to use a cell phone unless, like the people in New York and New Jersey, there was no cell service or no electricity to charge their phones.  I know that my kids would figure it out but it made me realize that what I needed to explain was the finer points of making a collect call (because, really, who has change for a call anyway?).  I don’t think my kids have ever needed to call an operator or even know what an operator does.

To test my theory, I just asked my 12-year-old how to call the operator:

Me: “If you needed to call the phone operator what would you do?”

My Kid: “Why would I need to call the operator?”

Me:  “Humor me. What would you do?”

Kid: “I guess I would push ‘O’. But why?”

Me:  “What if you didn’t have any money but you needed to make a phone call?”

Kid: “Why would I need money to make a phone call?”

Me: “What if you didn’t have a charged cell phone?”

Kid: “I would ask someone if I could borrow theirs.”

Me: “What if you weren’t with anyone and you needed to use a payphone?”

Kid: “Where would I find a payphone? Couldn’t I just find a store that is open and ask them to use the phone? I’m a kid, they would let me.”

At least I know he’s thinking.

All of this made me wonder about all of the other things that I never thought that I would need to teach my kids. I don’t mean programming the VHS recorder or slicing a mango with just a knife,

I’m talking about skills that I never thought my kids would need given our technological advancements but maybe I should teach them anyway. Here are just a few:

  1. How to read a map. My kids think that GPS is all you need but there have been plenty of times when the very pleasant voice on my phone is telling me to turn left but doing so would land me in someone’s front yard. Besides, as we all know, cell service is not a given.
  2. How to use an encyclopedia (and do research) that is not on-line. I know this is something they should learn at school but I swear I haven’t seen my kids go to the library to do research since 2nd grade. Besides, I love encyclopedias. I used to read them for fun (seriously). Using a microfiche machine would also fall into this category.
  3. How to use a phone book. My kids probably don’t know where they are or why they would use one when they have access to computers, smart phones and tablets. But what if they are stuck at a diner/gas station/truck stop in the middle of nowhere and they need to use a payphone to call for a hotel room/ tow truck/food delivery? Yes, they can read so, yes, they could figure it out but forcing them to look up a number in the phone book might not be such a bad thing.
  4. How to use a fax machine. My 12-year-old and I were watching the movie, Air Force One, and one of the characters used a fax machine to send a message to the White House because the fax machine was on a separate line from the phones. My son asked whether anyone uses a fax machine anymore. My mother and father-in-law still have one but we don’t.  I just scan, .pdf and email. I have, however, needed to fax something so maybe the kids should know how…just in case they find themselves without the ability to scan, .pdf and email.
  5. How to start a fire without matches, a gas-powered cook top or a lighter. No power. No gas. Freezing temperatures. Enough said.
  6. How to sit at dinner without pulling out your smart phone. Ok, this one is not an actual skill (or maybe it is) but it is a necessity. I was at brunch with my kids the other day and neither one of them could sit still and have a conversation without texting or having a screen in front of them. Granted, the adults eventually pulled out their phones but I’m sure the adults could engage in conversation even if they didn’t have an app to fall back on (at least I hope we could).

What would be on your list of skills that you thought you would never have to teach your kids?


Like this post?? Let me know!


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Christina Jones on November 6, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    This is great! There are many things we think are obsolete, but can come in handy: how to change a tire, unclog a toilet with a plunger, check the electrical box if the power goes out in the house, all of which having a working cell phone won’t help you do!



  2. This is a great post and gives me something to think about. Off the top of my head, changing a tire, growing a garden, shutting off the main water supply to the house, handwriting a proper thank you card, and driving a stick shift.



  3. Oh, there are so many. Addressing an envelope, writing a check (no debit card), balancing a checkbook, calculating how much 20% off is on a pair of jeans…the list goes on and on. It’s amazing, and my girls are actually pretty smart. It’s just that they don’t teach this stuff in school anymore. Great post!



  4. Back again, and it is funny that you mention payphones. On my way home today, the song “Payphone” was on the radio, and I was looking down the streets noticing that there no payphones anymore. Now I’m wondering what we’d do in a disaster…



    • Funny that you mentioned addressing an envelope. The other day, my kid asked me why I wouldn’t just print out a label instead of writing on the envelope. I felt like I was writing hieroglyphics. I’m on a quest to find a payphone everywhere I go. I should probably start a blog about the locations.



      • I had a blog documenting what I thought was the final frontier for the payphone – the NYC subway system, where there is no cell signal – unfortunately it appears that even that wasn’t sacred as most stations no longer have payphones


  5. 1: map reading is essential, even pre-GPS days many people could not read maps

    2: unsure if encyclopedias even exist in print any longer, but yes physical research is probably more reliable than internet research – someone had to invest to publish so is likely to be more fact checked than the internet that anyone can post anything.

    3: unfortunately phone books are no longer published – perhaps while teaching them about the operator, they can learn about calling 411 in place of this.

    4: there are many email to fax options, and there is always staples or copy centers if you need to send a fax, i’ve used both options before, but fax machines are still a vital part of business even as they seem to be an obsolete technology.

    5: boy scouts should be able to teach this, along with other life skills.

    6: i am hopeful that as mobile technology ages society will be able to find the proper balance for its use instead of the overindulgence that currently exists.



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