Let's Reclaim Our Children!

A search through the research on the amount of meaningful time parents spend with their children – particularly teenage children – makes depressing reading. Responses vary from 17 seconds a day to 59 minutes a day. More research is needed, but what is already crystal clear is that in many households, parent/child interaction is dangerously limited.

This can be particularly true of us dads. We can be so busy trying to be somebody outside of the home, we forget to be somebody within it. All too often, we express our love by providing. This is commendable, but what our children value more than our bounty is our time. When many of us do get home, the emotional and physical demands of a day at work can see us self-medicating with a drink, or looking for mindless distraction behind a newspaper or in front of a screen. Our children learn to leave us alone because we are tired and have not got the emotional reserves to engage with them.

This is a problem when it limits discourse with our children. It is also a problem if the compendium of wisdom and experience we have is not passed on to our children. Parents must never trivialize the value of what they know. We have blown out many more candles on birthday cakes than our offspring, and these years of experience are pure gold in terms of their value to the young. This will not happen if we have our 'do not disturb' face on.

If quality time between parents and children is being measured in a few minutes a day, the time spent by our teens looking at a screen is typically measured in hours a day. Again, research varies, but most teens are reckoned to be spending between two to five hours watching a screen each day. This totally trumps the time our sons and daughters are spending with us as parents.

All this raises the question of who it is that is parenting our children? Are we, as parents raising our young, or is the Internet, the cyber world and an assortment of social networking sites raising our children?

When a child is saturating their brains with the values and morality found online, the chosen standards promoted in the home will become marginalized. More than once, as the Headmaster of The King's School, in Sydney, I've had an angry dad poke me in the chest and say to me in an accusing tone, 'I don't know where my son picked up this dreadful habit. He certainly didn't get it from me!' The father was right. His son had not picked up anything much from his father for some time. The vacuum had been filled by his son's peers and some social networking sites of questionable value.

As parents, we need to reclaim our children, we need to remain the main influence in their life. We need to give them our time. Why time? Because giving time is the currency the young understand as being the authentic demonstration of love. When you give a child your time, you are rejecting all other things as being more important. 

Work commitments sometimes makes the quantity of time available to give a child problematic. Therefore attention needs to given to making what time you can give, quality time.

What I encourage my parents to do is to create 'conversation pits' in and around their home. These are settings that are welcoming and congenial for a good chat. Examples include the dinner table or kitchen bench. Make it an electronic free zone. Switch off the TV and all computers at dinner time. Put phones on silent or message bank. Make the evening meal a sacred time where all members of the family can gather to share the high points and low points of their day and whatever else is on their heart.

Likewise, the car. Unless driving across the continent, make car time chat time. Ban the wires dribbling out of ears and any form of screen. Use this as conversation time. You've got them captive – don't waste this as an opportunity to sow into their lives.

If we should fail to make conversation time with our children a priority, other people will take our place – and the result could be an alarming disconnect between our values and those of our children. 

Tim Hawkes is the author of TEN CONVERSATIONS YOU MUST HAVE WITH YOUR SON: Preparing Our Sons for a Happy and Successful Life (a TarcherPerigee paperback; on sale October 11, 2016) and the Learning Leadership series. He has taught in England and Australia for over 35 years and been a headmaster for much of that time. A highly regarded educational resource, author and social commentator, Tim Hawkes is in demand as a conference speaker around the world.