The distracted parent

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Parents should consider the needs and demands of their child with attention and understanding
There is much talk about how children these days are the ‘distracted’ generation. How they cannot live without checking their smart phone every few minutes, to look up Facebook, or other social media, or replying to a steady stream of messages. However, there is very little discussion about the distracted, and even impulsive parent. In general, parents would characterise themselves as more hands on and engaged than parents of previous generations. While it is true that many parents are more involved in the lives of their children, this does not necessarily translate to being fully present and available.
The distracted parent may be defined as one who does not have, or make, the time to tend to their children. This may arise on account on demands from work, the competition arising from the immediacy of modern technology, and/or an inability to display the skills required to help their children discover themselves.
Like their children, a distracted parent may be continuously following up or checking emails, accessing and updating social media, and doing numerous things simultaneously. While parents may argue that complicated lifestyles and work pressures combine to distract, children experience a situation where they have parents who are both more involved, but also less available, than ever.
There are situations where examples of the distracted parent can be identified, which are:
Constant checking of multiple phones
An obvious sign of parental distraction arises when a parent has multiple phones and continually checks each, as they run work and private conversations side by side. A parent can have one device, and still be distracted because of the continual need to check social media and their emails. Problems arising from such multitasking are disruption of conversations, and not noticing their children. The children’s needs, (in this context, emotional) can be an issue and attending to tasks can be compromised by a lack of attention to detail.
The distracted parent in this scenario may get angry when disrupted, rather than stop the source of distraction (the use of electronic media), and attend to matters that affect the immediate people around them.
Seeing a problem through to its resolution
Children are growing up more distracted and less known or understood than at any time in the past. This is a strange paradox because there is far greater awareness about children and their needs.
Parents these days give their children everything. They say, “I will give my child anything they want”. This stems from a noble aspect of love and caring. However, it can be fraught with problems.
Unfortunately, it is often what a child wants, they do not get. For example, a child who cannot study because of distraction by electronic media needs parents who can effectively manage and role model the issue of distraction. Similarly, a parent who says, “I always tell my children what I expect of them,” may be missing a central point, what is the child telling you about themselves and how do you (the parent) meet their expectations?
Consider the following: A child says, “Mum, Dad – I need a new phone/MP3,” may be met with the reply, “Why? You already have one”. The child may then say, “But everyone is getting the latest smart phone”.
At this point a distracted parent will say something like, “You are not everyone!” or something else to stop, or limit the conversation, to avoid conflict and to continue with what the parent is doing.
However, it might be better to start with a better sense of time and openness. For example, the parent could say, “Hmmm… so you would really like a new phone/MP3…. Do you feel that what you have now is leaving you behind?”
It may surprise parents to know that this type of response is NOT an admission or agreement to buy the phone or MP3. It is simply starting with the child. The child’s response may then be clarified by the child as follows, “Well, I know that all my friends are able to play (a particular game) and I can’t”.
The parent can now hear the real issue – the child feels left out. In this way, while the original issue sounded like a technology issue, the underlying message, which will not be heard by a distracted parent, is that the child feels left out.
A response like, “You feel like you can’t keep up or be included because the technology you have is different,” provides a strong sense of understanding and connection.  It is also NOT an undertaking to buy anything. In this way a child can feel listened to and supported. Once this has occurred, problems can be effectively resolved. For example a parent could then say, “I wonder how we can solve this issue. What is the game called?”
Of course, all of this takes effort and attention. Through such a conversation, a parent will be clarifying how best to support their child without being distracted by the words, when the underlying feelings matter most.

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Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

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