Resolved: to be present

I had been away from my family for many weeks. Everyone else had moved back to New England while I stayed a little longer at my job in DC. I arrived home for good, late on a school night, after a 10-hour drive. As a reward, I got a huge hug from my little boy, who was waiting up.
Since I had been away, he had taken up the clarinet, and was eager to show me what he had learned. He played a song. I was duly impressed. But I had just left a job I loved and a strong gravitational force was pulling me to the computer after an entire business day away. I opened my email, read a couple of messages, sent one out, logged off, then went up to tuck the kids in. Later, my husband said that PD had a second song to play for me, but when I went to the computer, he put away the instrument and said, “Mom doesn’t care.” Heartbreaking. It was two years ago and I still feel sorrow over the opportunity lost.
I’ve heard people express regret about teens texting their friends during dinner, or when visiting Great Grandma. What a shame to miss this important family time. But sometimes, yes, the parents are the guilty ones. An item in the New York Times today examines the possible effects on children’s development when parents talk less to them and more to their screens.
Parents as models
Parents need to examine their own behavior, that’s for sure. We never allowed toys at dinner when the kids were little. Everyone participates in the conversation. It’s pretty easy to extend that rule to communication gadgets. No cell phones at the table. And that includes parental crackberries. I’ve been guilty once or twice, and so has “the dad.” From now on, no exceptions!
And while we’re virtuously setting the example in the electronic genre, why not examine our big screen habits. Don’t want your kids to watch too much TV? Time to curb your own couch potato tendencies, if any…(wink wink) That’s the advice today from child media expert Dr. Michele Borba.
Instead of gathering around the TV, Dr. Borba suggests establishing a TV-free family night. This is a great idea because guess what? Your kids want your attention. They don’t want you paying attention to the little screen, or the big screen. Would you believe that kids ages 7 to 12 would actually rather play with parents than watch TV or use the internet? That’s the finding of a recent global study conducted by Ikea, the furniture store. I do believe it. Kids want your attention and they certainly don’t want to share it with people who aren’t even present! I’m sure this will be a worthwhile investment of your time that will pay off –  somehow! – when the little sweeties turn into surly teens who try to tune you out with their gadgets.
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Comments

  1. Thank you for the great reminder! How easily I get distracted by the news, the computer, something on the stove, or a phone call and forget I told my daughter I'd read her a story or play a game with her. One thing I haven't figured out is whether to allow video games when a friend is over for a play date. It seems to me that when you have a friend over, you shouldn't need to play a video game — a friend is better than a video game, right? But you could also argue that kids "these days" interact through video games. We played board games as kids and they play video games. But I don't know if I buy that argument — a board game seems to require more social interaction than a video game. On the other hand, will no one want to come to our house if they know I won't allow video games? Any thoughts?

  2. Good question. Hard to answer, because, as usual, what the kids' friends' parents do has an impact on how you parent. I used to insist, when the kids where younger, that they not play video games when friends were over, because they had a friend to entertain them. And I still think that's a good practice. Young kids can definitely easily find other things to do with their friends. I do notice, though, that boys especially have a way of "bonding" over video games. Now that they are older, and we've managed to control somewhat the video game habit by limiting use, I think it's ok for them to play video games, to a limited extent, with friends, and especially if they are in a situation where they are getting to know new people (say, when we are visiting my friends who have kids). It does break the ice, and then after a while, you can tell them that's enough, and they'll go more willingly to play something outside. So, I think it depends a lot on the age. As they get older, yes, you may need to allow video games, but if you raise a kid that isn't hooked, he or she will be amenable to limiting the time and finding something else to do with friends at your house, I believe. Any other thoughts out there?

  3. ummm….the comment "you may need to allow video games" really jumps out at me. no, not sure i will ever NEED to do that.

  4. You're right, Amanda. "Need" is the wrong word. Some parents may decide they want to offer video games as an alternative so kids will want to come over. But I'm sure there are other ways to address the issue as well.

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