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Deal with rude texting by setting right example

By Thelma Domenici
For the Journal
          Dear Thelma: I recently returned from visiting my son and daughter-in-law in California. We were there for three days and stayed at their home. My daughter-in-law is constantly texting on her cell phone. I did not say anything at the time, but I think this is rude and I feel she would rather stay connected to her friends instead of visiting with my husband and me for the short time we are there.
        We went to a very fancy restaurant the last night and we sat across from each other. She again was on her cell phone texting. My son quietly asked her to please put the phone away. When I got home to New Mexico, I thanked my son by e-mail for asking his wife to put the phone away as I thought it was rude. With that came a very quick e-mail that my comments were totally unnecessary and he thought we had had a good visit so why ruin it by making a comment like that.
        I now understand my mistake was sending the e-mail. I should have talked to my son personally, but I still think this is rude when other people are around to constantly be paying attention to the cell phone rather than living in the moment with those around you.
        How could I have handled this differently, and what should I say the next time we are all together? I understand this is something this generation does, but it bothers me. Should I just accept it and move on?
        A: The texting behavior you describe is rude. The most important text etiquette point that I teach and live by is that texting be done outside of your time spent with others. The person you are with face-to-face should always take precedence over a text message. That means the guest in your home or the cashier at the store.
        Texting in the presence of others is like carrying on a second conversation. It totally and very obviously, no matter how discrete you think you are being, takes your attention away from the people and activities at hand and keeps you from being present with what's going on in front of you.
        Text etiquette requires that if you are expecting something urgent, you can inform the person you are with that you may have to attend to a text during your time together and apologize beforehand. Apologize again when the message comes through and use your text response to end the exchange until you are no longer occupied.
        You've almost answered your own question concerning your e-mail to your son. Any conversation that has the potential to raise emotion should be in person or by phone rather than by e-mail. Tone, facial expression and body language — all things that help us read another person's intent and reaction — are all lost over e-mail.
        Thanking your son for a nice visit, especially for the special dinner and for any other attempt he made to honor you during your visit, may have been enough. He knows that his wife's texting is a problem, as it's probably a problem for him too. But to comment that his wife's behavior was rude, even though it caused him enough concern to ask her to stop, is bound to put him on the defensive. Although I can understand your sincere attempt to right a wrong, that is not your role in this relationship, which your son has made clear.
        The next time you visit avoid putting a laser focus on the issue and work to be an example of impeccable cell manners any time you can.
        Text savvy and good manners never go out of style.
        Have a question about etiquette? You can ask it at www.askthelma.com. Thelma Domenici is CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates, offering corporate coaching and contemporary social skills development programs to all ages.

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