Are You A Distracted Parent?

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A few days ago, my 17-year-old son said, “Mom, come listen to the song I wrote!”

I put down what I was doing and headed into the living room.  As soon as he started playing his song, my phone rang in the other room.

He stopped.

“Do you need to answer that?” he asked.  While I was tempted to grab the phone, I responded, “Nope, you’re most important right now. Keep on playing!”

In our book, No More Perfect Kids, Dr. Kathy Koch and I talk about the core questions that our kids are asking deep in their heart.  One of those questions is “Am I Important To You?” We answer that question in our actions each and every day.

Technology makes us so accessible these days that we can easily become inaccessible to those who mean the most to us.

We hear a lot about distracted driving, but there should be equal concern for distracted parenting.  Too many parents are pushing their kids on swings and checking email on the phone. Too many of us are carrying work home, unable to disconnect from work to really connect with their family. Too many parents are addicted to their screen of choice (phone, TV, computer, video game, etc) which keeps them from engaging with the children in their care.

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics watched 55 caregivers and their children in fast-food restaurants around the Boston area. Of the 55, 40 used a mobile device during the meal. In many of those situations, it was very evident that the child was working very hard to get their parent’s attention but most often failing to do so.

It’s important that we resist the pull. How can we tell our kids “you are important to me” with our actions? How can we keep distraction out of our parenting? Here are 8 practical ways to get started:

1) Choose to check Facebook, blogs, or email at times when your children are sleeping or playing on their own. If you like playing video games, do so after your kids go to bed. Resist the urge to resort to screens during times you could be interacting with your kids.

2) Stop, Look, and Listen–When your child asks you a question or talks to you, stop what you are doing, look them in the eye, and listen with your eyes and your ears.

3) If you’re driving in the car with your child, resist the urge to make or take a phone call while driving.  This models for them how to not be a distracted driver (they will be driving someday!) and it says to them that your time and conversation with them is most important right now.

4) Stash your smartphone when you pick your kids up. Nothing says “you’re not important to me,” than having a parent or caregiver pull up for pickup chatting with someone on their phone. Children need to be greeted with a smile by someone who is happy to see them.

5) When you take your kids to the park or a fun activity, resist the urge to check your phone.  Put your phone on silent to keep the distractions at a minimum.

6) Give family members special ring tones on your phone.  That way both you and your kids will identify when another family member is trying to get in touch with you.  If you’re reading to your child and the phone rings, you can immediately tell by the ring tone whether you should answer the phone or whether it can wait until you are done spending one-on-one time with your child.

7) Make meals no-technology time. Turn off the TV, put phones in another room, let everyone know that if their phone rings during dinner that’s what voice mail is for. When you go out to eat, keep your phone off the table and tucked away.

8) Leave phones out of the bedroom. Your kids need your full attention when you’re reading them a bedtime story, praying with them, and tucking them in bed.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes the responsibilities of parenting can be downright boring. I’m also the first to admit that every parent needs to engage in activities that fill them up and connect them to other adults.  The challenge is finding a middle ground between both of those realities; one that serves us and our kids well. Most often it’s not one big change that needs to happen, but dozens of little changes each and every day that will allow us to say with our actions, “Yes, you are important to me!”

What about you? What practical steps do you take to steer clear of distracted parenting? 

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