BY MITCHELL ROSEN
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST
I've had men and women come into my office and state before a psychotherapy session starts, "I want to let you know that my children are with a sitter so if my cell phone rings and it's my kids, I need to answer it." Others will announce, "I've been trying to get ahold of a business client and there is chance he or she may call during our session. It is an extremely important call and I may step out if they ring."
Each of these statements is appreciated. What is less understandable is when an individual has their phone ring, they check the number and just start talking. Unless you are a neurosurgeon on call, a parent with responsibility for children or have previously scheduled a potential call of importance, picking up the phone and just talking is a behavior that didn't exist 20 years ago.
Before call waiting, voice mail and the advent of cellular phones, Americans were content to do their socializing when not interacting with others. Now it is the norm and it is not a positive observation for men and women to stop a conversation and begin another without even saying, "Excuse me," "I'll just be a minute" or "This is the reason I am behaving poorly."
During family counseling I have been in the position of asking adults and adolescents to please turn off their cell phones. I know when a petulant adolescent is texting during a therapy session someone has dropped the ball on manners and civility. It has become diagnostic, meaning an opportunity for therapists to assess parenting by observing how parents manage cell phone behavior for themselves and their kids during counseling.
I've had children explaining to their parents, with tears in their eyes, why they feel sad or alone in their lives. In the middle of a heartfelt statement, when most moms and dads would be riveted to their child, some parents end the opportunity and switch to answering an unknown cell call. My heart aches for the child.
Few of us have business so important we need to suspend a conversation and start a new one mid-sentence. I've seen therapists check their phones during a session and actually excuse themselves to take the call. The only way this is not the epitome of arrogance and insensitivity would be if the counselor announced they might need to take a sensitive call and apologize in advance. I'll do this if I am on call for court testimony, but it is announced before the session begins with an apology and assurance no time will be taken from the person in my office.
I don't know where we as a society lost the notion that all persons deserve respect, but the cell phone quickly lets me know if I matter. I don't know if the pendulum will swing the other way but I recognize more and more educators, spouses and family members are letting it be known if they are in a conversation they expect to have eye contact and response until it ends.
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