My family seems to be spending more time on our devices and less time with one another, even when we are all together at home! How do I encourage a deeper connection with my children?
Busy Dad in Pennsylvania
Dear Busy Dad,
That is a legitimate concern, especially in our technology-driven society. Screen time is replacing much of the time families used to spend together. Sadly, we are often depriving our relationships of much-needed face-to-face interaction. When we spend too much time looking at a screen instead of each other, we miss out on valuable quality time with those we love.
Three areas are particularly important to maintaining close, healthy connections within our family relationships.
Technology provides an avenue to connect with people, but it can cause us to lose out on the physical connection that face-to-face interactions provide. Personal contact is very important to the physical, cognitive, and emotional development of our children.
A simple hug can send the message that they are loved, important, and belong.
When children are young, personal contact comes quite naturally as they enjoy cuddles, holding hands, and kisses. We tend not to show the same amount of affection as our kids mature. Whether they are embarrassed by parental affection in front of peers or struggle with bodily changes, physical contact is still a necessity for the development of our relationship with our older children.
A simple hug can send the message that they are loved, important, and belong. It has the ability to reduce their stress and anxiety and is a way of opening the door of communication if they are struggling with something. Physical touch builds trust in a relationship and will deepen your connection with your kids.
It’s easy to miss opportunities to have a good conversation if we don’t pull ourselves away from our devices. Put boundaries in place for where and when technology can be used. For example, restricting device usage at the table will give you a chance to catch up on everyone’s day.
Not allowing devices in the bedroom can provide an opportunity to talk about more serious conversation as your kids are winding down for the day. Go deeper than surface questions like “How was your day?” You can find out much more by asking very specific questions! What brings them happiness? What scares them? What confuses them? What are their interests? Discuss world events and how it makes them feel. Make it a priority to initiate conversation. You could be pleasantly surprised at how much your kids will open up and share with you.
When our mind is occupied with the screen in front of us, we have a tendency to not give our full attention to what is happening around us. Whether it is a half-hearted answer to a child’s question, or not paying attention to the activity going on in the next room, we are not fully present when our eyes are fixed on a screen.
Make it a rule that each family member must fully engage when approached.
Make it a rule that each family member must fully engage when approached. That requires their device to be set aside and eye contact made. Children can tell when our focus is elsewhere which will discourage them from opening up and discussing important issues. Be available and be present! Quality interaction takes intention.
Connecting with our kids on a deep, personal level is important to maintaining a strong relationship with them. Be deliberate and enjoy their youth! They grow up way too fast!
Yours in accountability,
“Ask Ali” is an op-ed column answering common questions about accountability and related topics.