‘Get off the phone!’
The gadgets might have changed, but the politics of family phones is much the same as when Tracey was a teen.
In the year 1980, sometimes written in the modern calendar as 15 BC (Before Cellphones), I was a teenager living in a household with two teenage siblings and a father who worked from home. It made telecommunications fraught. ‘Get off that bloody phone!’ was his much-roared refrain.

It is perhaps because of this early trauma that I am not a ‘phone person’. I don’t like talking on the phone and limit my conversations to vital business calls and very quick arrangement-making. When my father (who now lives abroad) recently gave me Skype hardware for my birthday, I thanked him but never installed it – I can’t even hold a verbal conversation via cable or satellite, how am I going to handle a video link-up?

My teenage children have no such hang-ups (if you will forgive the awful pun). They can loll happily about in a chair for hours, receiver hooked under their chin, jawing away until I’m pretty sure my head is going to explode. Inevitably, I add this to the list of things I was never going to say to my own kids: ‘Get off that damned phone!’

The thing is, each of my children does have his/her own cellphone. But they have pay-as-you-go arrangements (for which they must pay out of their own pockets, from their allowances and part-time jobs), so often they have no airtime. This most often translates into a friend SMSing a ‘please call me’, and one of my kids calling back – on my landline. It drives me dilly.

Then there’s ‘my cellphone’, otherwise known as ‘the family cellphone’ (by my children, not by me). Phonecalls to their father or shared friends who are on my phone’s contact list are automatically made from my phone. So the second-most-roared refrain in our house has become ‘Where the hell is my cellphone?!’ – and most often it’s in the sweaty clutches of a teenager.

I tell my kids cautionary tales about when I was more or less their age and living in communal houses, and all we had was Telkom. We’d have a unit counter installed, and next to the phone lived a tatty old exercise book with a pencil attached to it with a piece of string, and every time you made a call you were supposed to record your name, the time, the number dialled and the number of units you’d used. And at the end of every month there was always a deficit, and a mighty debate ensued about who had used the mysteriously unrecorded units.

‘Because,’ I conclude, ‘it’s not fair to expect other people to pay for your chit-chat.’

My kids look at me with that 100-metre stare that you know means ‘huh??’ Then one will go and raid the fridge and the other will immediately phone a friend to tell her the hysterical story her mother’s just passed on about how things were Back In The Bad Ole Days. On the landline, of course.

What conflicts arise in your household when it comes to phones and phonebills?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne

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