Commodity Connectedness: What’s In It for You?

Commodity connectedness pervades relationships these days. A chance meeting with former colleague results in an exchange of business cards or a promise to “like” each other on Facebook. Did they talk about the kids? Creative pursuits? What’s important to each of them? Or only what they can get from one another?

A romantic dinner with a beloved can quickly turn into a tit-for-tat conversation—If you do the laundry on Tuesdays, I’ll take Patty to ballet on Thursdays. Did they express profound appreciation of the other in this exchange? Soul-stirring gratefulness?

We all fall into the trap of treating others like commodities. We view friends, loved ones, business associates as things to feed our incessant needs. How often we do this and how conscious we are of doing it matters. Often I don’t know I’m doing it. Experiencing being treated as a commodity, though, is easier to spot. Let’s start there.

A recent phone conversation from a former close associate whom I hadn’t heard from or talked to in years serves as an example. Delighted to hear from her, I asked her questions. I was sincerely interested in knowing what she was up to and how she had been. But then I realized she had called on something business related. That was that, nothing more. She never asked me a single question about myself—what I was up to or how I had been. A dead-give away of commodity connectedness: It’s all about what the person can do for you.

In fact, she ended the conversation with, “Good to hear your voice.” I felt like saying, if you ever want to hear my voice again, text me before you call, I won’t pick up so you can listen to my recorded voice until your heart’s content.”

As I feeler my hackles go up when a person is more interested in what I have to offer them rather than in me—who I am currently, what I’m up to today or this week’s goals or past year desires. If someone I know, or used to know ignores the me in our exchange, I start feeling like a garage sale or worse. I become that broken down rocking chair littering the sidewalk you put there free for the taking because it didn’t sell at the garage sale. And it’s lost all value to you. You can’t even muster up the energy to take it to the dump yourself.cl-antique-furniture

Now there I go, comparing myself to a commodity in order to make my point about how it feels to be a commodity–a de-valued commodity at that. Commodity connectedness lies deep in the psyche of each of us in our commodified culture.

My husband usually gets the brunt of my commodity connectedness thinking. A generous, thoughtful person, he is also practical. So that means my car always has gas in it and our pantry overflows with back-ups—just in case. Our household runs like a well-oiled machine thanks to him. So it’s easy for me to think of this kind man as a well-oiled machine, too. Yet that’s no excuse to do so. But I have to admit, at times, I have to work to remember, he’s a person, too.

When my kids got good grades or scored on the soccer field or basketball court, I mixed them up with their achievements. I got so excited for their wins I had to intentionally make sure I separated who they were from what they did.

And when they struggled, how easy it was to see them as problems. It’s wasn’t their behavior or their choices—it was them. When commodity connectedness took over, all parenting strategies I tried, no matter how aligned with best practices, failed miserably. How could they succeed, trying them out on things?

Yet, it’s only human to do this. Fear makes parents forget facts. Being gentle with ourselves when we slip into the commodity connectedness trap with our kids is hugely important. If we’re too hard on ourselves, ironically, we end up treating ourselves as commodities. God help us if parents ever become programmed robots who never error.

The good news: Since we’re human, we’re built for growth. We can observe and change course, adjusting to what works. I have seen Martin Buber’s concepts of I-It and I-Thou help a lot of parents. So much so, I included these in the Parent Coach Certification® Training Program so parent coaches can use them. Importantly, Buber distinguished two categories: relationships where the other becomes a thing and those where the other remains a sacred being.

Writing about these concepts in her book, The Joy of Feeling, Iona Marsaa Teeguarden, states:

“…what’s missing in the ‘thing orientation’ is a concern for what really matters, like love, beauty, life itself—and the life of the Self. Experiencing oneself as a commodity is the opposite of experiencing oneself. Paradoxically an antidote to alienation is having a sense of self, because that is what allows the experience of relatedness to others …” (pp. 208-209)

Relating to the essential self of the other is always the goal, whether child, spouse, or colleague. Cleaning house of people in our lives who seek to use us may be necessary for our own Thou-ness to thrive. But we need to give them plenty of chances first. Our culture normalizes the I-It orientation. Because of that, many people won’t have a clue they connect to you like a parasite.

But next time you’re talking with someone and you get that dilapidated-furniture-on-the-sidewalk-feeling, acknowledge it and adjust accordingly.

 

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

 

Thoughts on Screen Addiction—40 Years Later

Screen addiction worries me so I was excited to receive the April 1976 Psychology Today magazine I had ordered through Back Issues.

screen addiction

I leafed through “The Benefits of Boredom,” “Our Failing Reverence for Life, and “Guru Bawa and His Disciples: The Mind is in the Heart,” and there it was—what I was looking for: “The Frightening World of the TV Addict.”

George Gerbner then dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, at the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleague, Larry Gross, discovered that “heavy viewers,” who watch four or more hours of television daily, are more fearful, less trusting “of their fellow citizens” and see the world as a much meaner place than those who watch less TV. Dubbed, “the mean-world syndrome” their research broke new ground, demonstrating that adult perceptions and behaviors could be shaped by TV’s influence (Gerbner and Gross, 1976).

Heavy viewers have a hard time separating their world from the TV world. Sometimes that results in becoming a scary person, more aggressive or a more scared person, more fearful than one might have been without all that programming. Other times, TV can make seemingly sane people do bizarre things. If you ask those 250,000 adults who wrote and sent letters requesting medical advice from the fictional Dr. Marcus Welby why they would do such a thing, they may not be able to give you a reasonable answer. (You may be too young to remember the venerable man. Played by Robert Young of Father Knows Best fame; Dr. Welby embodied the heroic essence of “the good doctor.”)

Those youngsters who ran around lifting up sewer grates, looking for the Teenage Mutant Turtles, (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2014) have an excuse, after all, children’s brains aren’t fully developed and what is imagined in mind easily becomes real-life. But adults who actually take time to intentionally pen/type a letter to someone who doesn’t exist? (Back then the letters had to go through US mail and took more time and thought to construct and deliver than today’s three-line e-mail.) And yet…maybe these folks weren’t all crackers. Maybe they sincerely wished like mad that the good doctor would/could/if only exist?

Whatever the reasons adults can’t separate reality from fantasy, the fact that these things happen shows the power of the screen to influence. That was true in 1976 and it’s still true today, despite all the massive changes. 40 years ago, as the article points out, “Television, unlike theater or the movies, does not require leaving your home.” Today, of course, you carry all your favorite TV shows and movies with you, accessing them anyplace with Wi-Fi, which is just about anywhere.

40 years is a long time. 40 years can turn a toddler’s tantrum into a mid-life crisis. He’s gone from throwing red convertibles to buying one. 40 years mellows many turbulent teens into earnest moms—now arguing with their turbulent teens. A lot happens in 40 years. We aren’t the same people we were (unless of course, we are the Rolling Stones and we continue to live as if it still were 1976).

So while so much has changed in the technology world over the past 40 years, and we aren’t the same people we used to be 40 years ago, actually little has changed to prevent or eradicate screen addiction.

With the ease at which screens flitter through our lives and fill up our time, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the average time spent with screens for today’s kids is 7.5 hours daily (Rideout, 2010). One out of eleven are addicted to video games—that’s at least three million kids whose lives revolve around video games (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2014).

The fours hours-a-day-1976 description of the “heavy viewer” now seems quaint by comparison, nostalgic even. And if we want to get technical—fours hours was the average time adults spent viewing. Children back then watched TV an average of 2-3 hours day.

Stephen King calls TV “the glass teat” and he has a point—these days media use begins in infancy.

On any given day in the US, 29% of babies under the age of 1 are watching TV and videos for an average of about 90 minutes. Twenty-three percent have a television in their bedroom (Linn, et. al., 2012). Time with screens increases rapidly in the early years. Between their first and second birthday, on any given day, 64% of babies and toddlers are watching TV and videos, averaging slightly over 2 hours. Thirty-six percent have a television in their bedroom (Linn, et. al. 2012). Many parents now offer their infants and toddlers their cell phones as a way to calm them; families dining out often are paying more attention to their digital devices instead of conversing with each other—as you probably observe everyday.

While we progress from toddler to mid-life; from being a teen to parenting a teen—in 40 years as a collective intelligence we haven’t figured out how to prevent screen addiction.

While the information necessary to make positive changes to prevent screen addiction exists, (tons of research; loads of best practices) it is not in the hands of enough parents. When children are on the “glass teat” more than they are doing things in real life, it demonstrates to me that the parents do not understand the negative consequences of too much screen time on developing brains. They don’t think that creating a habit of quieting youngsters with devices can result in a screen addiction a few years later. But once parents do understand the immense fragility of the young brain, they often need help to implement new parenting strategies in their day-to-day. (I will put in a shameless plug here: That is why I started parent coaching as an effective solution for helping parents align their parenting decisions with what’s best for optimal brain development. It works!)

I don’t want to be coaching parents ten or even five years from now because they lost their children in virtual reality. I hope in the future I don’t hear a mom or dad complaining, “Gloria, the holograms are taking over every nook and cranny of the house. What am I to do?”

I long for a high-tech world that we manage well and use for the highest and best purposes of humankind.

Who will create our a high-tech/deeply human world?

Your children will. Teach them to love the natural world, to be at home in the world of earth, sun, sky, breath and life. Teach them that the screen world is for new information to better the natural world; for entertainment—times to escape and have fun; for communication—to stay connected to those you care about and most of all, the screen world is for their creative expression—to design new forms that enhance the natural world and life and everyone’s life.

The screen world is never, ever, the only world.

Yes, teach them these things and your children will be care-full thinkers with the wisdom, will, and know-how to make sure in 2056 the real world on planet Earth is still livable, and most folks (your grown children included) choose it over the screen/virtual/holographic one.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

References

Gerbner, George and Gross, l. “The Scary World of TV’s Heavy Viewer.” Psychology Today, April 1976. Pp. 41-45.

Grossman, David and DeGaetano, G., Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A call against TV, movie, and video game violence. Random House. 2014.

King, Stephen. (2010) On Writing. Scribner, p. 148.

Linn, Susan, Ed.D, Almon, Joan, Levin, Diane, Ph.D. (2012) Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young children, technology and early childhood. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and the Alliance for Childhood.

Rideout, Victoria, Foehr, U., and Roberts, D. (2010) “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

 

Talking with Teens Beyond Media Literacy

Recently I had an opportunity to talk with some insightful teens beyond the traditional media literacy topics.

It all started when Brother Leroy Baylor contacted me to be a guest on his radio show for WHCR 90.3 FM—the voice of Harlem. I had enjoyed previous interviews with Brother Leroy with the release of both editions of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. A passionate advocate for youth, Brother Leroy is extremely knowledgeable about the link between violent video games and youth violence. It’s a pleasure to talk with like-minded souls who “get it.” And a great relief when I don’t have to defend my position on a radio interview. I can share the straight facts and have them both accepted and appreciated.

Knowing that we would have an energizing and interesting conversation, I readily accepted his invitation. But this time was going to be different from the other interviews, he explained. Fourteen and fifteen year-olds who are learning how to be radio hosts would question me. Brother Leroy went on to tell me about his new project with inner city youth—radio journalism for high school students. Impressive. (It’s hard to keep up with Brother Leroy, a father of five and grandfather of six who works tirelessly for youth in his community.)

On the call, my first host was a 14 year-old boy who came right to the point, “So, did you let your sons play violent video games?”

“OK, here we go,” I thought. “How to position this so I am not defensive and I don’t put him on the defensive as well?”

I first acknowledged that the games “back then” weren’t as violent as they are today, but that being said, I still restricted any violent ones. I also quickly added, my sons played violent games at friends’ houses anyway. When I caught them playing a game they brought home that was basically beating up other people, I played it with them—noting that it took no thinking at all to constantly punch someone, just excellent hand-eye coordination that luckily I have.

I also explained to my youth radio host that my junior-high sons quickly acknowledged that if mom can succeed at this violent game, surely they had better things to do. It wasn’t long before they were immersed in sports video games with a lot more strategy needed. They knew I couldn’t compete with them when actual skill was involved.

After I told this story, I felt the silence on the other end of the phone line. Like hearing water actually being absorbed by a sponge, I could tell my youth host was pondering what I had just said. Soaking in the information. He then quietly asked why I was so sure violent games were harmful.

I immediately went back to my experience of 1985 finding a seminal 22 year-old study on the dusty shelves of Suzzalo Library when I was teaching at the University of Washington. Completed in 1984, this longitudinal study by Leonard Eron and Althea Houseman from the University of Chicago stunned me when I first read it. Tracking kids from under age 8 to their adulthood, the researchers found that kids with a steady diet of TV violence in early childhood, became adults who were incarcerated for violent crimes and as adults were more likely to beat up their spouses or children. And their children then became more likely to become domestic abusers as well, and imprisoned for assault, even murder.

More silence while I heard the soaking in.

As the interview progressed I started channeling my inner high school teacher—communicating clear respect for the youth’s ideas while explaining my position with the assumption that it would be of interest to them.

And it was.

I included some media literacy ideas. One example is the ability to distinguish between gratuitous violence and sensitive portrayals of violence in which the viewer or the player aligned with the victim instead of the perpetrator. I gave the example of taking my underage sons to see Schindler’s List—a film that captures the horrific suffering of victims of the holocaust. I made a point to let my radio hosts knows that our family discussed this movie in detail afterward, comparing violent portrayals on the film and on video games—my sons had to consider whose side you are on in each venue.

While I covered a few media literacy ideas like this one, during the interview what struck me was that even more than the value of media literacy activities was the absolute need for providing a meta-level understanding to these curious, eager, and astute youth. For me, a meta-level framework includes two major pieces:

1.) The knowledge of how growing brains are more easily conditioned to feel satisfaction from violent media—the fact that brains aren’t considered mature until age 25 adds levels of complexity to human brain vulnerabilities when interfacing with screen technology.

2.) The extensive research—the fact that there are more studies showing media violence’s contribution to violent behaviors than there are studies linking smoking to lung cancer.

With my last youth host, an articulate, confident fourteen year-old girl, I spontaneously said, “You know, parents are so alone in all of this. Parenting with all the problems with screen technology is unprecedented—there has never been such daily parenting dilemmas as there are now. It’s really hard. Moms and dads are stressed and overwhelmed. Parents could use the help of teens like you and your friends, here—your leadership in sussing screen technology wisely could make big positive differences.”

She wholeheartedly agreed!

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

Swiping Isn’t Creating, But We Know That, Don’t We?

I am currently coaching a conscious single mom who diligently limits her two-year old’s access to her cell phone. Not. Easy. Yet, this mother truly understands that swiping doesn’t give her little one a chance to create. She knows her son needs to feel this beautiful world with all his senses, using the stuff of this beautiful (wood, straw, sand, clay, paint, etc.) world to manifest something—anything—into reality that springs forth from his creative mind. It’s this conceptual anchor that buoys her up when she is tempted—and she is tempted often, of course—to hand over the cell phone and just be done with it already.

But she doesn’t. She knows she won’t and can’t be done with it until her child is an adult. Until then she gets to make the decisions about what she will and won’t allow into his experiences. That’s her job, after all.

I love coaching parents like her who really want to do their best and are doing their best in the face of so many odds against getting it right for their children. I believe it is a moral imperative of our times to help parents figure this out—since the high tech industry isn’t. And won’t. So, I do. And I help other family support professionals do the same.

One way I found to be successful is to re-frame the situation as a creative opportunity for parents—now they get to dig deeply into their inner Creative Source to figure out how to entertain a a young child without using a smart phone. Using a smart phone to keep a baby occupied is a dumb idea writes Michael Miller in Washington Post article. I concur. And that’s why I affirm this mom (and all my clients): “You are a smart mom, smarter than any smart phone and you know that!” And she does. baby swiping

Swiping isn’t creating. Don’t be fooled by the bill of goods pushed on you. That it’s OK for babies and toddlers to use screens to learn. Hogwash. Their brains’ architecture isn’t constructed yet to take the full advantage of learning by screen. A baby or toddler who swipes will be more at risk for attention and self-regulation problems, aggressiveness, and anti-social behaviors. You can count on it. Since swiping robs the young child of precious time necessary to explore the natural world, the child can’t possibly grow up in tact as a human.

The magical child within in today’s society has no voice and is fast being replaced by the tiny technocrat which is absurd when you really think about it.

I have devoted a chapter on Creative Expressions in my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, including it as one of the 5 essential needs that make us and keep us human. In our screen-machine age a lot of folks are getting mixed up about what constitutes creative expression and what doesn’t. Handing over a flat surface, screen-machine to any human creature under the age of 3 doesn’t constitute an opportunity for his/her creative expression within the definition of creative expression appropriate for that age and stage of development.

2D vs. 3D Reality or Screen Machines are Not the Natural World, But We Know That, Don’t We?

The cell phone or the i-pad or surface tablet, or whatever, is a two-dimensional flat surface. When swiping, the youngster’s attention is on a partial view not the whole view. Losing one entire dimension is a big thing at this age and stage of development. The way society remains neutral about this fact frustrates and angers me because with just a bit of accurate information and non-judgmental encouragement, well-meaning parents could do so much better by their youngsters. And eliminate  many future pitfalls as well.

If we think we have problems with autism, sensory integration problems, lack of self-regulation and the other plethora of  concerns emerging in recent times, just wait a few years and watch these skyrocket as young humans deprived of their most essential need—to explore their natural environment—become ever so reliant on screens for feelings of satisfaction and pseudo-fulfillment. And if we think our schools are failing our kids now, in five years (60 months) from now when these swiping babies enter kindergarten, you will see teachers and school districts scrambling to figure out how to put their fingers in the dike, when they are not using them to pull out their hair.

Is it too late?

The trouble began when six month old fingers started swiping instead of cuddling a soft toy, shaking a rattle, or holding a hand. The trouble got more complicated when those two-year old fingers swiped even more and missed opportunities for molding mud pies, digging in sand, even finger painting–on paper.

Let’s face it, after age five years of swiping those fingers will have completely forgotten their earlier marching orders. Swiping is what they will know best and what they do best. All the rest…well, why do it?

Before that time arrives, let’s hope that adults’ Creative Expression will soon kick in. If adults can quickly figure out productive ways to keep a baby and a toddler interested in the natural world more than the screen world and participating in the natural world more than the screen world, we have a fighting chance of giving our children an enriched human life—a life in which they know themselves as creators. A life in which they enjoy creating from their highest Self, for their highest purpose.

Without such a life they can’t possibly love and respect the natural world and their place in it. But we know that, don’t we?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

Memorial Day Thoughts from a Viet Nam Vet’s Ex

Recently I visited the Viet Nam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC with my son and his girlfriend. It wasn’t my first visit—but first with him who was only a toddler when I divorced his dad, a Viet Nam Vet. Now in his thirties and an art historian, my son gave me a “walking tour of the wall,’” from his scholarly perspective. Interesting and informative.

Yet, throughout, I could only silently shake my head in wonder, “He thinks, he knows, but he really doesn’t know.” How could he? I did everything in my fierce-love-mother-power to protect him from his father’s first hand knowledge of war.

But I couldn’t protect myself.

The night terrors were by my side for over a decade; the sweaty sheets smelled of fear and death every morning that no laundering could erase. The weeping out of the blue; the sullen days of silence on end; the anxiety attacks at the grocery store; the jumping when a car backfires or even when popcorn sputtered; the half-finished stories tantalizing me to hear more. But I was never allowed the entire story. I’m not sure I wanted to hear it, anyway. I could see my husband’s facing aging before me, each time he remembered.

I wanted desperately to assuage his pain and anger. But that was not to be. Healing the horrific may not be possible, even within a decade of love, attention, and so many tries.

My husband was a farm boy of 18, the oldest in a Catholic family of 12 when he was dropped down from a helicopter in the dead of night into a foreign land in 1968. Otherwise known at the Tet Offensive, to me it was the day an-innocent-naïve-kid-would begin a long life struggle to live a happy life.

Today as we celebrate with our bellies full of beer and burgers, we can’t possibly know what soldiers go through. We may be privy to their experiences, even in intimate ways, as wives and girlfriends, but we will never, ever really know.

Coincidentally, this week, I am researching violent video games for an upcoming revision of my book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. I am struck by the glorification of war and the trivialization of the sacredness of life in popular war games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. I am appalled at the ease of murder rehearsal in the context of the “thrill” of combat.

Boys who play video war games may think that they will know what war is. But they won’t.

“War is hell,” dear young innocents.  Please don’t mistake a game for the real thing.

The Connecticut Shooting: Possible Reasons; Likely Prevention

Numb. Shocked. Saddened beyond belief by the Connecticut shooting, like everyone else. Wanting to live in a world where children flourish carefree. Wanting to see young men—even those with mental challenges—express their anger in healthy ways and have no desire—or even one thought ever—of murder.

The complex factors that lead up to such a tragic finality can never be known. Yet, it moves me to isolate possible“reasons” and make sense of how our young get to this surreal “solution.” Why has life, his life and others lives become so meaningless? So easily annihilated?

In 1999 after the Columbine tragedy I had asked the same questions. Through a dark-night-of-the-soul experience I stumbled upon a series of understandings and then a conclusion of what I could do to help prevent such tragedies.

Gun Control:  Yes, the U.S. needs gun control. And gun control may prevent such tragedies.  But I am not so sure that gun control can stop a person who has a strong desire to kill from finding a gun to do it.

Violent Media and Violent Video Games:  Conditioning kids to act like killing machines is a real problem that I explain with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in our book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill (ironically published right after the Columbine tragedy). Violent video games act like murder rehearsal, conditioning the brain and de-sensitizing the child from the repulsiveness of killing that an empathetic person would naturally feel. However, many kids play violent games and don’t pick up real guns to kill real people.

Caring Relationships:  Most people who kill others and/or themselves lack supportive relationships in their lives. This is evident by the time they pick up that gun. But how did they get to that point? Going through a school system, isolated, depressed children are very likely to encounter at least one caring teacher or a supportive peer—our schools are filled with them!

More Parental Love:  It seems that the shooters in most massacres come from loving homes with well-intentioned parents.

My Conclusion:  To create a mass murderer, a sociopath, a suicidal maniac, whether a middle-school student or a young man age 20, something happened—or perhaps better put—many things that need to happen for healthy development did not happen. Yes, we must have effective gun control, and schools must improve in providing effective ways for “loners” to participate and feel cared for.

But the most profound and effective way to prevent such tragedies is to make sure parents have the knowledge, skills, and will to make sure their children’s developmental needs get met. It’s that simple. And that complicated.

Parents, crushed in spirit by the overwhelming demands of modern-day parenting, need on-going dialogue and contextually-supported strategies to help them figure out in this age of information—just exactly what information is needed at this particular time for their unique child’s cognitive, emotional/social, spiritual development.

That exchange and creation of ideas and actions, new attitudes, improved habits, and renewed decision-making takes place within a trusting relationship with a professional with a big heart and a deep tool chest to make the types of positive changes that will make the big differences.

Of course.

The Parent Coaching Institute was born Sept. 15, 2000 after much angst, thought, pain, and some hope.

Today I wonder if this mother, gone forever by the son she brought to life, would have been able to better address his needs (and hers) with the help of a PCI Coach. I am haunted by this wondering because I know the answer.

Contempation for Summer Silent Moments

“The earth is our only place. Let us rediscover joy in the earth. Instead of…destroying it by the senseless exploitation of agribusiness, mining, and hydrocarbons, instead of squandering its riches that were slowly accumulated over millions of years and that we scatter in a few decades, let us regard this home, this garden, this place that was made for us, on its own terms. Let us contemplate the wealth of the countryside, the grandeur of the mountains, the majesty of the oceans, the mysteries of the forests. The earth was made for us. We have here all that we need to make us happy, as people have been for centuries.”  from What I Believe by Jacque Ellul (p. 49)

Front-Stage Parenting with Back Stage Devices

Dan Sullivan, CEO of Strategic Coach, uses the concepts of “front-stage” and “back-stage” to explain the need for boundaries between customer service (front-stage) and staff concerns (back-stage). Like a theatrical production, the back-stage activities are often, messy, chaotic, and seeming endless. The performance, however, goes on seamlessly—(hopefully)—most of the time. For instance, the audience shouldn’t have a clue that one of the actors’ costumes ripped accidently, replaced at the last minute. Making the audience privy to all production details would make no sense. Because the back-stage is intentionally separate from the front-stage is precisely the reason the production works. In effect, the back-stage whirlwind keeps the front-stage focus possible.

With this analogy, I’m not suggesting we are “performers” for our children. Rather, it’s important parents see themselves as participants, fully engaged with and present to their children. And, of course, this can be really hard to do given all the device-distractions these days. We really do need to check our e-mail, text a friend, keep up with our Twitter stream, post photos to our Facebook page, enjoy some eye-candy on Pin Interest. These are real-world activities. Yet, they can easily interfere with active listening about a child’s day. A buzzing i-phone spontaneously disrupts a three year old’s story or a thirteen year-old’s complaints. A texting conversation preoccupies awareness, missing the disappointment in our son’s eyes when he approaches us, anxious to share something important to him. When will be the next chance for this moment? How many times will this have to happen before he stops approaching, realizing that it’s futile to compete with the device?

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