Last night when I was saying goodnight to my teenager, I was reminded of the importance of connecting individually with him. Sounds easy to remember, but I think we all have a tendency to forget and let everyday life get in the way. Our digital technology can be a definite bonus because the speed of information is quick and we can connect with others easily. However, we sometimes let it interrupt our personal conversations and time with people important to us.
What happened last night
I went to say goodnight to my teenager in his room. He had a very active day with a long run in the morning, then a basketball game, and then a team practice. He was exhausted to say the least. Because he was so tired, he did not have too much to share at dinner or even before he went to bed. However, when he was lying down and the lights were off, he starting telling me about a funny event from the day. The story was nothing really important in and of itself, just a funny story. At that same moment, I heard my phone beep with a text. I knew the text was important and contained information I needed to know. I had to fight the temptation of turning my attention to the familiar beep. However, I continued to talk with my son and listen to the funny story. At the end of the story, we said goodnight.
I left the room – thinking…
- I was tempted to check the phone while he was talking. BUT
- I was glad I connected with my son because every time I do, he knows I am there to listen. AND
- If anything big ever happens, I want him to know I will be there to listen and help.
The real connection
It is so easy to allow distractions to pull our attention away from our conversations with our children. We can so easily tell ourselves that we can read the text or email at the same time as listening to our children, but they notice when we are not making eye contact or when we randomly say, “uh huh” to their statements. I know I notice when I am talking to someone and they pull their phone out and say, “Hold on a moment.” It brings up the question, am I as important as the person on the phone? We have to make sure we put the distractions away and really connect with our children. The benefits: a) they will internalize that they matter to us, b) they will know we will listen to them if they have a big problem or issue, and c) they will know we will be there for them when they need it. As an added bonus, we will be modeling how to have a good conversation with others in the age of digital technology and interruptions.
Here is a little reminder about what makes individual connection with our children work.
Literally, the EYES have it
Eye Contact (Make eye contact)
Your Time (Stop other activity and face your children)
Empathy (Show that you are feeling for them as they tell their story)
Special Attention (Don’t let other distractions, like beeps on the phone, pull you away)
My son’s story was not really important, but listening and connecting with him sure was!
Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.