Thursday, September 25, 2014

Connecting With Your Child Face To Face Is Important

Elle magazine has a chilling profile of the Skyler Neese murder that happened in Morgantown, WV, a couple of years ago.  It ought to be required reading for every parent in the United States.

Because what comes across so strongly in this piece is not just a Morgantown tragedy writ large, it is a cultural disconnect that we are creating in the distance we have with our kids as we all sit in a room ostensibly together, but in our own separate bubbles connected solely to our own, individual electronic devices outside of the real world.  That disconnect from reality that this sort of constant "plugged-in" mindset can foster is chilling in this profile, which is why it ought to be a must read for every parent out there.

We can't wrap our kids up in cellophane and keep them away from technology, but we can try to understand their lives a little better and reach out personally more often. This is a good reminder to do just that.

A few days ago, I saw this photograph of a delicate origami crane made of tissue paper and loved it.  But I could not figure out a post to use it until now.  Our children are also fragile, delicate creatures in so many ways, and we shape them with everything we do.  They can be awfully resilient under horrible circumstances sometimes, and snap back even when bent to the brink by tragedy or challenges beyond their control.  But all too often, they snap and fall apart.

So what makes one child resilient while another crumbles far too easily?

I wish I knew the answers on that because we are headed toward the teenage years far too quickly.  What I do know is that some behavior and internal fortitude is the stuff we are born with, while the shaping of us is done through a lot of learned behavioral response a lot of which is picked up inside their own family life.

The thing that I learned when I was doing criminal law day in and day out is this: empathy and an internal moral compass are not innate.  They are learned behaviors.

A child may have an instinct to protect or nurture, but it can be beaten out of them under horrible circumstances in an abusive home environment.  Likewise, you can grow up in a horrible home, but if just one person tells you that they believe in you, that you can choose to do the right thing...and that faith in your own ability to choose "good" sticks?  That can make all the difference in the world.

We have got to do a better job at connecting one on one, in a personal and face to face way, with all of our kids. It is so important. There really is no substitute for it. We also have to make sure we are teaching them to think about the feelings of others, to reach out to help others in need, because that isn't necessarily just something they will "pick up" from someone else.

 It is so important that our children understand that their actions impact the feelings of the people around them.  If you say something mean, how does that make the person on the receiving end of it feel?  It isn't just about scoring a point with a nasty comment, because when what you have done is crushed the spirit of the child on the receiving end of it then you have already lost.

The recent Texas homecoming queen who shared her crown with a bullied friend is a great place to begin a conversation about our choices and what they say about us.  We've been talking about that one quite a bit at our house lately, and how kind it was of the homecoming queen candidates to think of their bullied friend and to help her that way.

It's also a great time to talk about how we feel about ourselves.  Have you seen the video for "Try," the brilliant Colbie Caillat song? (YouTube)  If not, you really should watch it.  Fantastic stuff, and a wonderful jumping off point for conversation.  The Peanut and I have been singing this at the top of our lungs for a couple of weeks now whenever it comes on the radio.  It's kicky and upbeat and, even better, incredibly affirming -- love it.

Reach out to your kids today and have a face to face conversation.  Imagine if we all did that every single day:  talking about how they are doing, what they are feeling and how we can help them stretch their wings and soar.

(Photo via Emre Ayaroglu.  Just gorgeous!)

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