In the days before every child received a mobile phone as soon as it babbled its first words it was possible to maintain some control over phone calls made, though not received, by the young adults in our families. It’s true that such ‘control’ might sometimes consist of an unseemly screaming match between mother and daughter involving a lot of misunderstanding – ‘You don’t understand, I need to call her’ – and much flouncing out of rooms, thundering of feet on stairs and slamming of doors (or was that just in my house?)
Teenagers have an urgent need to communicate – not with their parents, heaven forfend! Mumbling suffices for most responses – ‘Yes, no, maybe, if you like, I did, I didn’t, goodnight, hello, goodbye’ are all covered with one grunt. No, they have a desperate desire to maintain contact with their peers. No matter that they have just parted outside the house after spending all day together, it is imperative that they call each other as soon as they have entered their respective homes and thrown their school bags on the floor.
Hours of garbled conversations follow and it’s no use eavesdropping in the hope of gleaning any information. What you hear bears little resemblance to English as you speak it.
Well, that’s the way it was, anyway. Long ago, we had just one telephone in our house, a good, old-fashioned rotary dial beast that was solid and reliable and in constant use. In vain did I plead with my children to use the phone when rates were cheaper but the prospect of having to wait a couple of hours before they could engage with their friends was intolerable. Finally, I hit on the solution. I bought a telephone lock! One daughter was so disgusted that she stormed out of the house to a public phone box. I was delighted that at last I had regained some power.
My husband was working abroad quite frequently during those teenage years (‘Was that deliberate?’ I ask myself now) I was also out of the house all day, working. One day he returned from a business trip and needed to make an important phone call. He was not happy to find the telephone locked. He managed to wrench the lock off the phone and when I arrived home I was left in no doubt that a replacement device was not to be purchased.
The young people in my house were only too happy with that directive!