How much time do you spend with your children each week? Do you gather for family meals? What do you know about your children s social life, their friends, what they do after school and on the weekends?
A recent survey indicated that more and more families spend very little family time together on a weekly basis. The traditional family meal at night and on Sundays seems to be a ritual of the past. All in the name of good activities, many families have abandoned an important, life-giving family activity.
We live and work in a fast paced society. More often than not, parents and children alike are running in 5 million directions at the same time. Some of those directions for both parents and children are not healthy. No matter what your family system, family time is imperative. The next-generation will only learn how to become healthy, functioning, good parents by what they see in us.
Our children need to see in our behavior that family bonding time is important, and is a major family priority. Therefore, there will be times when the regular golf game has to be postponed or canceled, or the night out with the girls, or the optional business meeting at work has to be missed for the sake of family.
Cellular and computer technology have revolutionized human communication and access to important information. However, they have also profoundly wounded the family and interpersonal communication.
It is exciting that some of our children on a regular basis are communicating with people in Australia and South Africa. Unfortunately, if it becomes the excuse as to why teenagers don t have time to communicate with their parents, there is something radically wrong with this dynamic. Parents who cave in to those kinds of excuses need to step back and take a deeper look at their own role as parents.
Texting is a modern phenomenon that is paralyzing a growing number of families. Some teenagers become melodramatic when their texting privileges are suspended or canceled, or when they lose or misplace their phone. Some budding adolescents act like life itself is on the verge of ending.
A growing number of students are texting during class, distracting those around them and not paying attention to what the teacher might be presenting. Even churches at the beginning of services are asking members of the congregation to turn off all cellular technology, and not engage in cellular texting. For the first time in my 35 years as a teacher, I have added a paragraph in my syllabus regarding texting and cellular phones, indicating the consequences for noncompliance.
A growing number of parents have expressed real frustration in this regard. They have said that their children have become social mutants. They come home from school, go immediately to the computer and stay there until they are forced to go to bed. If they have to share computer time with other siblings, they go to their room and spend most of the night texting their friends. If they value doing homework, they might take some sporadic breaks and do some of their assignments for the next day.
What is troubling about all of this is that our kids are out of control in this area and parents seem overwhelmed. As parents, we need to reclaim and/or revive our authority as parents. No is not a dirty word. Social parameters and family expectations are appropriate and should be established and enforced. Cell phones and computers are not essentials for living. We did pretty well before they took the main stage in so many peoples lives.
Kids can still communicate and connect with friends. Many relationships will become more substantive and less shallow because people will have to use human touch and conversation to connect. Families will be less distracted and time at home will become more life-giving. Family meals could actually last more than six minutes, because there are no computer screens, cell phones ringing or little fingers texting. Families might actually have to speak to one another!
Family time is critical to every family s development. Our children need support and encouragement, whether they want it or not, from their parents and their brothers and sisters. As parents, we need to know where our kids are at. We cannot make them become what they don t want to be. But we have the responsibility to challenge their choices and let them hear a different voice as they chart their life s course.
Too many teenagers are becoming anonymous strangers that take up space at home. Many sleep at home and check in sporadically, but don t really connect with any family members. In some households, family members are like ships that pass in the night.
After a recent survey, it was shocking for me to learn how many good families confessed that they did not know much about their teenage children, what they liked or disliked, who their friends were or what their social life consisted of. Some parents admitted they did not know if their children ever smoked weed, engaged in social drinking, street drugs or if they were having sex.
Recently, I heard too painful family stories. JK came from an intact family. He was a senior in high school who was well-liked by all. At the beginning of his senior year, he started to isolate himself. He changed his core group of friends. He started to disconnect from his family by obsessing with the computer in his room which was in the basement. He had a private entrance and his parents rarely visit his space. When he had not been seen for 36 hours, his parents started to panic. They called around. They finally went down to his room and found him lying unconscious on his bed. He d overdosed on heroin.
Thanks to the quick reaction on the part of the local community ambulance corps, his life was saved. Three months later, his parents are still numb. They did not have a clue that he was doing five bags of heroin each day. He got really good at hiding from them.
The second story is even more tragic. TJ was a junior in college. He was good student and athlete. In the fall, he started to withdraw and socially shut down. However, whenever anyone saw him, he was always engaging, and always wore a plastic smile. He had emotionally disconnected from his family and close friends months before. Everyone was so busy; they didn t realize he was disappearing from their sight.
Two months ago, while everyone was out on the Saturday night, he hung himself in the family garage. Pinned to his sweater was a note that said, I am very sorry. I love you all, but I couldn t take the pain any longer.