One night after dinner my husband and I handed our smartphones to our kids (ages 8 and 10) and told them to call 9-1-1.
They looked at us for a minute to see if we were serious, and I said, “Imagine I just fell down the steps carrying a laundry basket and I hit my head on the railing. Now I’m laying here, and I can’t talk to you. Do you know how to call 9-1-1?”
My 10-year-old son, who is a bright enough to build a Georgian mansion in Minecraft, flipped back and forth through the apps on my phone for a full 5 minutes and then shrugged and said: “I don’t think you have 911 on your phone.”
“Ok, then,” I responded. “Call Dad’s phone.”
He was like a deer in the headlights, and admitted, “I don’t know where to find the phone part.”
He didn’t know how to find the phone ON MY PHONE!
And he’s not the only one.
A few days before this experiment, I’d chaperoned a group of Girl Scouts on a safety training day. They made first aid kits, learned how to use an EpiPen, and practiced using a fire extinguisher. When they spoke to the firefighters about what to do in emergencies, one girl bravely raised her hand and asked, “How do you call 911?”
A few of us mom giggled thinking, “oh honey, everyone knows how to dial 911,” and then we realized that they really don’t know.
Generally speaking, fewer kids have access to a landline, and cell phones are heavily restricted by their parents until they “come of age” to receive their own mobile device.
In 2004, more than 90% of American homes had a working landline. According to Forbes, by 2014 less than 60% of homes had a landline. And now the CDC estimates that 60% of children are living in households with wireless services only. That’s 6 out of 10 kids who can’t just pick up a receiver and dial 911.
The Parent Barrier
Admittedly, I don’t let my kids use my phone very often. They have tablets and video games for their own entertainment. They typically only talk on the phone if I’m already speaking to their grandparents, and, honestly, they prefer to Facetime with cousins and other family members. When it’s time to play with friends, they either run down the street to knock on a neighbor’s door or I schedule their playdates via text messages with other parents.
Phone Call 101
While we’re raising the most tech-savvy generation of all time, don’t take for granted that they know how to perform essential functions. After we realized our kids couldn’t make a call to 911 or to anyone, we took time to show them the following things on both an iPhone and an Android device:
- Where the phone function is located
- How to dial a number, connect, and disconnect
- How to go to contacts to call “Dad” or “Grandma”
- How to access emergency calling features if you can’t unlock an iPhone (That last one was actually a good lesson for mom and dad too! )
Have a family safety plan
When you talk to your kids about safety, be sure to add a quick tutorial on how to call for help. It may seem silly at the time, but teaching your kids the simple task of how to make a phone call could quite literally save your life.