Breaking News: the father’s role in a child’s life is crucial.
When I was made aware last year of a study that found the average American parent spends fewer than 3 minutes a day in non-directive communication (directive meaning “do this, don’t do this”) with their child, I thought of the dangers built into a culture that discourages frequent real-time, in the flesh communication within a family. TV face, screen face often replaces face to face. Having face time with the ones you love is an irreplaceable dimension of being human, of fostering communion — and it is an irreplaceable means of forming, “getting into” the mind and heart of your child.
God’s pedagogy in the Bible followed this pattern, as God’s incessant pleading with man for face-time in prayer found its completion in the Incarnation. In Jesus we see God’s human face, we see God pursuing a face-to-face encounter with us. That blows my mind. And remember that Jesus spent three long, intimate and uninterrupted years building a face-to-face friendship with his disciples (cf. John 15:15).
Stealing Back Time
A family asceticism must include a regular, rhythmic setting aside of computer and media technologies — activities that steal away family face time — in favor of engaging in close-range activities of all sorts. In our family, every Sunday is a “screen free” Sunday, meaning we put away every electronic device and rediscover the world as it was millennia before computers, iPhones, social media or internet existed. We do make exceptions for football or edifying movies. Our children think “edifying” is code word for torture, but we are working hard to change that.
On the nights I’m able, when our children go to bed I lie down on the floor between their beds and talk about the day. I ask lots of questions and offer subtle commentaries that hopefully help them think through life in the light of faith and good common sense. Even though these conversations often end with my falling asleep, or speaking some gibberish as I nod off, I’ve found these nighttime exchanges have been the most important (and special) moments of parenting. Helping form their minds and hearts seems somehow much easier at night. It’s hard sometimes to choose to disconnect from everything else to be with them. My grandfather taught me how to do that when he would say, “Tommy, come waste time with your Pop talking about things that don’t really matter.” But they did matter because as we talked I felt that I mattered.
Here’s a study to that effect…
Adolescent kids retreat to their rooms when you try to ask them how they are and hide out with their friends so often that they spend less and less time with family, right? Read more…