By: Kristine Habibi, MS, LPC-A, Supervised by Thomas O. Whitehead, LPC-S.
One of the first questions I ask families at intake sessions is “how much intentional time do you spend with your child weekly?"
Often, parents initially reply that they spend hours with their kids each day. However, when I define intentional time as undivided attention focused solely on their child, the answer changes drastically. The average answer is shocking. The standard American family spends only 37 minutes of intentional time together each day, according to Visit Anaheim’s Jay Burress.
From video games, to YouTube, to Tik Tok, to handheld devices, most of our children have more direct interaction with technology than with parents. The average amount of time even young children spend with handheld devices each day is shocking. According to the NPR article, Young Children Are Spending Much More Time In Front Of Small Screens, usage for our youngest children has gone from about five minutes a day in 2011, to 15 minutes a day in 2013, to 48 minutes a day in 2017. Just imagine how much higher that number probably is since the onset of the pandemic. Data on usage by older children is equally alarming. The amount of time spent is spiraling out of control, but also of concern is the unsupervised content which children have access to. Even with parental controls on devices, parents still have limited control in regards to content. There are hidden emotional messages such as disproportionate rage or sadness, overt connections to inappropriate material, and many other content-related issues which can be detrimental to our children. While keeping your child entertained with technology may seem easy, and is even a norm today, it may lead to negative long-term effects on your child’s development.
Sometimes it may seem easier to show children love through tangible items, but what children really need and want is your undivided attention. When children’s basic connections with family are underdeveloped or neglected, they are much more likely to act out, seek negative attention, experience social adjustment issues and mental health problems. Down the road, lack of strong family connections can even lead to individuals seeking unhealthy romantic relationships, developing low self-esteem, and other more serious issues. There is no substitute for the undivided attention that only you can offer to your child.
So where do you find the time? Most families do not have chunks of free time throughout the work week. Good news! Spending intentional time for undivided attention does not have to be time consuming – just make it part of your daily routines. With this in mind, below are some tips for spending intentional time with your children:
Cook and eat with your children as often as possible.
Turn off all technology if possible, (especially cell phones), and intentionally listen to your child at specific times throughout the day. This is especially important at meal time.
Incorporate multiple ways to say and show “I love you” each day.
Create a daily tradition of uninterrupted time, such as reading to your child for 15 minutes before bed each night or talking about their day right after school.
Allow your child to choose an activity that you can both partake in. This can be something that has to be done anyway, such as going to the grocery store or cooking dinner.
Ask open-ended questions and listen with an open mind.
Be the therapist at home and focus on how your child feels, not just what they do.