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Paying Attention

August 01, 2014

A local summer camp recently asked its 6- and 7-year-olds to answer a simple question: name something you’d like your parents to start doing with you. Among the responses given by the children were: “Talk to me during dinner,” “Play more games with me,” and “Read me stories.” Responses like these remind us that many of our kids want more of our interest than we realize. In fact, many find themselves competing for our attention.

For lots of parents, work life consumes inordinate time and energy, aided by handheld devices that make work possible wherever we go. One estimate suggests that 10% of Americans are workaholics.1 The proportion is as high as 23% among doctors, lawyers and psychologists. 2 In a survey of Canadians, 38% of those with incomes over $80,000 described themselves as work addicted.3

Let’s be honest: children’s conversation isn’t always compelling. What engages us more? Often it’s some text or email, or checking a favorite website, or our Facebook newsfeed — frequently more interesting than stories of playground dramas or classroom lessons. Kids can no longer count on our undivided attention while we’re in the car, sitting around the meal table, or waiting in line at the grocery store. Walk through family restaurants and notice how many devices are resting on the table, within parents’ reach.

Children need our focused attention to know that they’re important to us, important simply for who they are regardless of their marks in school or skills on the soccer field. When they have to compete for our interest, their sense of self-worth can be easily undermined. What’s required of us is slowing down, paying attention, and accepting that being with the kids will often be less stimulating than when we’re engaged with our devices. (Same for the kids: putting away their devices may leave them under-stimulated … but available for connection with us.)

Let’s show our kids that when we’re with them, we want to be with them fully, a team of two, facing the world together with nothing coming between us.

References & Citations
  1. Sussman, Steve, et al., “Prevalence of the Addictions.” Evaluation & the Health Professions. March 2011; 34(1): 3–56.
  2. Doerfler, M.C. and P. P. Kammer. “Workaholism, Sex, and Sex Role Stereotyping Among Female Professionals.” (Sex Roles, Vol. 14, Nos. 9/10, 1986).
  3. Kemeny, Anna. “Driven to Excel: A Portrait of Canada’s Workaholics.” (Canadian Social Trends, No. 64, Spring 2002).