My 21-year-old daughter burst through door after a long work week exclaiming, "Mom, I want you to write your next article and tell parents to "be where their butt is" (a term not allowed in her younger years). For good reason, I have followed her marching orders.
The expression "Be Where Your Butt Is" is a new one to our vernacular. We heard it from a speaker about a month ago and it has been growing in popularity in our household ever since. It is credited to Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd, a local Counselor at the new Spotswood Counseling Center. She is co-authoring a book, The Digital Invasion, to be published next June. This book deals with technology and its impact on relationships. The expression is used in the book to remind us to be present in the moment: not physically in one place while our mind in some remote location by cell phone, texting or on our iPad. It's encouraging us to interact with the people around us. Texting and connecting at a distance are intruding on face-to-face relating. It is a growing problem in our culture and effects all of us, particularly the young, who are still developing and still learning about relationships.
Every child wants their parents approval. It reinforces love, affection and importance since it the basis for their self image and esteem.
"One of the keys to becoming a good parent is learning how to affirm your children. Human beings are born into the world and spend much of the rest of their lives searching for approval. The first and most important place that this approval should be found is in the eyes of the parents," Allen Teal writes in his article, How Can You Be an Affirming Parent to Your Child.
Connections between individuals produces bonds and building blocks for relationships. Connections do not happen with two people standing in a room together. They have to engage. Communication, whether verbal or nonverbal, is necessary for parents to show approval to children; mere presence is not enough.
Verbal approval is communicated through words:
"Great Job," "You Listened Well," "Go Girl," "I'm so proud of ..." Nonverbal approval can take place anytime your child can see you; applause, thumbs up, a wink, a smile or a fist pump. Approval is easy to express, but we still think our presence is enough. It is not! Children need connection to receive approval. It is easy to be distracted by the phone or internet. Before you know it, time flies by leaving a huge gap in communication with the ones we are physically sharing space with. All relationships are at risk in this technology-driven culture, but it is especially damaging to life-giving bonds built between parent and child. This bond is the ultimate; laying the foundation for all that follow.
Here is the scenario:
My daughter teaches tennis camps. All summer she invests in young lives encouraging their tennis skills and attitudes. When her students achieve a measure of success -- connecting with the ball or getting it over the net for the first time -- she watches them look up to their parents sitting on the sidelines for approval. She said, "It happens every time. They look to their parents no matter what I say. Yet, far too often, parents are not paying attention; heads down texting, talking to someone on the phone or on their laptops. I watch the child's delighted smiles fade, and often, heads drop." The one person in the room that mattered most, missed it; busy with their own agenda. She continued, "Mom, I remember how important it was for me to get a thumbs up or huge smile when I did something well, especially in sports. It validated me. " As parents, we sit for two or three hours in the same room with our child, yet our faces are buried in technology. We need to be where our butt is for our children."
Some simple solutions:
Balance is key. Learn to manage technology, not let it manage you. The people we are with deserve our time and attention. They need connections and we need them, too, for a healthy relationship. If you need to work or make a few calls during your child's activity, let them know that the first and last twenty minutes you will give your undivided attention. Don't answer the phone or text during that time. Sit out of their view the rest of the time so they will not expect your approval. Or, have technology-free times during meals or sporting events. Times where you are connecting with each other without interruptions. It used to be that travel time was great together time; no phones, no iPods, no in-car movies. Perhaps, that was a much healthier approach to growing relationships. I recall family car songs and games and simple conversation, which in retrospect, built bonds in the moment communicating with the ones we were with.
It is likely that where you find yourself physically is the most important place for you to be. We can only be in one place at a time. Decisions were made that placed us there, validating its importance. We cannot allow technology to rob relationships of our presence. We are important to the ones we love, especially our children, who need our frequent approval and connection. Our winks, smiles and attention are priceless. It is a small price to pay for a happy healthy child. Parents, "Be Where Your Butt Is!" Maybe, a sensitive 21-year-old can teach a little more than just tennis.
Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania.