July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month. I encourage you to declare independence from bad cell phone habits. Thinking about this issue in terms of good manners can help. After all, good manners are in place to show respect for those around you. Follow these tips for using mobile devices.

Table the Conversation: No matter who you are dining with, it’s always advisable to leave the cell phone off the table. Sharing a meal together should be a pleasant time of connection. Constantly checking messages on your phone demonstrates to others at the table that they are not as important to you as your phone. It shows a lack of respect for others at your dining table and makes you less available for conversation. So, leave the phone in a purse, bag or even on the floor out of sight. The one exception? If you are awaiting an emergency call, apologize in advance to your dining partners that you may be forced to take a call.

Manage your Meetings: How many times have you been in a meeting and noticed coworkers texting or checking social media during a presentation? Probably a lot. Texting during a meeting shows a lack of respect for your coworkers. It also makes you seem aloof and disengaged from the business at hand. Do everyone a favor and wait to check your phone until a break or the meeting has adjourned.

Private Lives: The strangers around you don’t want to hear about the minute details of your everyday life. We’re talking about loud public talkers who use their phone in a grocery store, a waiting room, public transportation or anywhere there is a shared environment. Consider using the 10-foot rule: When making or taking a call, move 10 feet away from the building, including windows. Keep calls made in public as private — and as low volume — as possible.

KISS: When it comes to texting, KISS stands for “Keep It Short & Sweet.” Texting is intended to be a fast, succinct way to communicate. If you’re tempted to write a novel, save it for a conversation or phone call. Keep if brief when it comes to voicemail too. Your friends and family will thank you!

Distracted Driving: It may seem obvious, but many people still feel they can slip in a quick text while they are driving. Not only is this dangerous but, it’s also against the law in Arkansas.

The state of Arkansas prohibits: Text messaging and wireless interactive communication; handheld cell phone use in active school zones or highway work zones; the use of any cell phone, even hands-free, by drivers under 18; the use of handheld cell phones by drivers aged 18 to 20; and the use of any type of cell phone by school bus drivers while driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 14% of fatal crashes and 8% of all crashes are caused by distracted driving. This means that in Arkansas, approximately 4,800 accidents a year are due to distracted driving; and that distracted driving is the cause of about 60 traffic fatalities a year in this state. So be courteous and smart when you are on the road. Keep your hands on the wheel and off your cell phone.

Scene Stealers: How many times have you been in a church, movie theatre or stage show and had the entire performance upstaged by someone’s cell phone ringtone? I hope not many. By all means, turn your phone off while attending any live performance or theatre or when visiting a church. Also, keeping your mobile on mute is not good enough, because a bright screen can absolutely ruin a darkened movie or live stage show.

Consider Content: With cell phones, spontaneity can be contagious. But once a text, tweet or post is sent, it’s live. Sure, you can delete it, but it’s out there, just waiting to bite you back! Use common sense and don’t post inappropriate or offensive pictures or language.

Take a Phone-cation: To keep your phone use in check try taking a break from screen usage. Start out turning your phone off for 1 hour per day, then add 1 day per month, and work up to 1 week per year. This is a great way to de-stress your life and enjoy family, friends, hobbies, and nature!

Smartphones have become a part of our lives. The constant barrage of texts, emails, and calls; can cause us to lose sight of the value of person-to-person contact. July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month, and it’s the perfect time to improve your phone habits. Practicing these phone etiquette tips can help you develop excellent habits year-round!

Adapted from the following sources: https://www.psow.edu/blog/cell-phone-courtesy-month/ https://www.protocolww.com/drop-the-call-top-8-tips-for-national-cell-phone-courtesy-month/ https://www.trustedchoice.com/distracted-driving/arkansas-laws/

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— Pia Woods is staff chair and agent at the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. Details: 870-534-1033, pwoods@uaex.edu or www.facebook.com/UAEX/JeffersonCo.