Children should not be allowed within 10 feet of the telephone if parents desire to retain any semblance of pride, privacy or purchase power.

I remember my early days of motherhood when I really tried to teach my children the proper way to answer the telephone. We rehearsed over and over again the opening phrase I wanted them to use . . . "Hello. May I help you?"When my children had the phrase memorized, I lectured them on ways to avoid answering questions from strangers and told them not to volunteer any information.

One day when I was busy in the bathroom and couldn't get to the telephone, I heard my 3-year-old answer it. I listened attentively, waiting to hear the fruits of my telephone lessons.

"Helwo," she said. "Who's dis? What you want?" (Opening phrase down the tube.)

She paused. "Are wou a stranger?" she continued. (Rule No. 2 down the tube.) There was a long pause again.

When she felt assured the caller was no longer a stranger, she broke rule No. 3 and volunteered unnecessary information. "No, Mommy can't come to da phone. She's on the toylet . . ."

Children also like to keep their parents hopping when it comes time for Mom and Dad to answer the telephone. While my children are supposed to be sleeping, I have a sneaking suspicion they crawl out of bed, lower themselves out the window with their crib sheets and attend "How-To-Annoy-Your-Parents-When-They're-On-The-Telephone" school. Why else would my children strictly adhere to the same age-guided rules whenever the telephone rings and it happens to be for me?

As soon as I try to have an adult conversation on the telephone, all children between the ages of birth and 2 years immediately start crying. Children between the ages of 2 and 4 years immediately have to go to the bathroom and can't get their pants down without help.

This telephone malady also affects all male children between the ages of 4 and 8 years. They immediately run to the phone cord, wrap it firmly around their necks and try to hang themselves. Female children in this age group try to use the phone cord for a jump rope.

Children between the ages of 8 and 12 years always think of some absolutely nonsensical question that must be answered by their parent in the next micro-second or they will keel over and die. The best way to ask this question is to silently creep over to Mom from behind and shove your face so close to hers that it makes her go cross-eyed. Then repeat 67 times, "Mom, Mom, Mom . . ."

When Mom finally answers and says, "Jordan, I'm on the phone. I'll talk to you later," immediately change tactics and start poking her on the arm or pushing your nose against hers and wail, "But Mom, I have to ask you. . . ."

At this point, most parents are making silent death threat faces and wildly gesturing at their noisy children to scare them off as they try to keep their voice calm and sedate while finishing their telephone conversation. Parents try not to let on that they're plotting ways to destroy their own offspring as soon as they hang up.

Children in the teenage years, contrary to popular belief, solve many parental telephone problems. They stay on the phone so long no one else can get through, so Mom and Dad can rest easy never knowing what calls they've missed.

When the kids leave home, they all learn the meaning of the word "collect" and how it pertains to telephone charges. Parents find a whole new meaning for the words phone bill as it inches up and over the price of their home mortgage.

When Alexander Graham Bell said, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you!" it was probably because he needed someone to tend Alexander Jr. while he finished inventing the telephone.