In a recent article, The Theory of Family, I wrote about my observations of how youth and teens are finding a sense of family among groups of friends with whom they spend a great deal of time, often in unsupervised and/or unsafe settings. While I believe that this situation has grown, in part, from what we used to term “latch-key” kids, I also recognize a certain aspect of “gang” mentality (minus the crime and violence) in the ways these youth/teens bond with each other.
One of the aspects that leads to this current trend is that many parents are overwhelmed with job pressures, financial crises and other family obligations. I admit that in the past I have been guilty of allowing my responsibilities to overwhelm me to the point that I have not paid as much attention to my children as I should. It takes real effort to achieve the balance that is needed in the home between the needs of the parent and the needs of the child(ren). However, once you find the way to achieve this balance, it is much easier to maintain.
Children of all ages – including teens – want out attention. When we come home after a long day at work, feeling like the only thing we want to do is crash in front of the television, yet knowing that we have to cook dinner and do the laundry, the last thing we want to hear is our child tell us that they are struggling with math and need our help or that their best friend dumped them and they don’t know why. Yet they need us. If we don’t help them solve their problems, math is going to become that dreaded subject that they avoid and possibly fail and they are going to turn to others their own age to learn how to deal with social conflict. Do you remember what that was like at their age? I remember that children and teens do not make the best decisions about how to deal with each other and often cause more hurt than the creation of sound relationships.
At this point, your child/teen needs to know that they matter to you. Tell them that you want to hear about their day, but you must also deal with dinner and laundry – since they do like to eat and wear clean clothes. Make a deal. You will listen and talk while they help in the kitchen and laundry room. Work together while you listen and advise. The bonus is multi-faceted – your child/teen realizes they are important to you; you build a trust relationship with them; you get help with the chores; and they learn that they can depend upon you.
Of course, time to assist with homework can rarely be merged with other activities. It definitely takes a more concentrated effort. When my daughters were in school, I attempted to make certain activities (television, movies, phone calls) dependent upon completion of critical tasks such as homework, cleaning their room, etc. I quickly found that homework and room cleaning were tasks that were done with minimal effort and lousy results in order to achieve the “completed” status and receive the “reward.” I then developed a schedule that dictated there would be no television Sunday through Thursday if interim reports or report cards showed anything below a B and pushed room cleaning to Saturday morning. It was a compromise for me and my daughters and it worked. With no television hanging over their heads, tempting them, we had time to truly pay attention to homework. Also, I made the commitment not to turn on the television until after they were in bed, so as not to distract them. Yes; it was a sacrifice sometimes. But I gained much more than I expected because our homework sessions often turned into discussions of books that were read, ideas about different cultures, and the sharing of thoughts on scientific discoveries. Better yet was the opportunity to connect on a level that allowed me to assess how they were thinking not only about scholastic subjects, but also about life in general. Those conversations became more in-depth and enlightening the older they became.
Did I go to bed tired? Most nights. Would I have rather have chilled in front of the television or with a good book? On occasion I may have thought so at the time. However, I never found myself angry about what I “gave up” in order to spend time with my daughters and looking back, I am happy that I chose to put them first.
As parents, we never are able to spend as much time with our children as we hope. Life is fast-paced and full of sacrifice. However, we need to consider what we are sacrificing and how much those sacrifices entail. When it comes to our children, allow the sacrifices to be in other areas. Parents are the best and most important influence they can have in their lives. Make sure you are there for them, because if you are not, someone else will always be available to fill in – and it may not be the influence you hoped for.