“My happy customer” was the phrase of the day today as I was preparing turkey stew from our leftovers from Easter. Lucas was sitting happily in his chair eating his raw vegetables and dip when he made a happy face on the plate and as I was busily prepping the soup. He then went on to say, “Mom, I’m happy customer!”. That absolutely made my day – it was such a stark contrast from my earlier observation of a young mom at Walmart with her little girl who was probably the same age as Lucas – having a tantrum as kids normally have – and this mom was tantruming as well. It was one of those things that everybody dreads seeing in public – where nobody says anything – and watches idly by. Yet in my heart I was just so beside myself for this little one and the damage this mother was doing to this her soul. I thought, what if this mother could’ve had more patience with her? What if she had the support she needed? It’s politically correct to say that we ought not judge anyone by appearances, but how can we not? The truth is there are several sides to the big picture of anyone’s life – as well as generations of learning and instruction we have all caught and thus been taught. I noticed her hitting her child and poking at her and provoking her and treating her (honestly) as immaturely as the 3 year old was behaving. Of course the thought to call child and family services crossed my mind – but really, reason told me that this child needed her mother more than the potential outcome of being ripped away from her – and ending up in a system that would be even more horrifying than that issue of an episode of horrible parenting (for which we are all guilty). What parent doesn’t get frustrated with their child and react in ways that they regret? The episode merely struck a chord of contrasting difference in how one child can tout being “A happy customer” and the other suffering in screams. Mine might be happy not because I’m the greatest mother, but because I choose to love him and serve him and give him my all instead of berate and hurt him. Because I strive to give him my all – and I’m sure that might truly have been the case with the young mom in Walmart. This might be the ‘all’ she knows. Heck. Maybe she’s having a bad day. Maybe she was abused as a child. Maybe she is struggling financially. Maybe she’s a single mother. Maybe she’s hurting. Maybe she’s sick. The maybe’s go on and on.
Interestingly enough, just a few days later my son and I were again playing – this time at a water park. As I was sitting on the bench enjoying watching him run through the water with glee, my ears perked up to hear a woman yelling at a child – an Indian boy who couldn’t be older than 10. Although I missed exactly what happened, this young mom took full liberty to aggressively berate and correct him for what appeared to be stealing the grounded water pistol from her 3 year old daughter. He didn’t seem like an aggressive child, yet under the guise of yelling, “give it back to her – she’s just three years old,” she proceeded to harshly demand him to “get away from here, leave her alone”. Her tone of voice and body language were rude, dominating, and just plain mean. Her motivation was to give her child first place at that pistol, yet her behavior and actions were second class trash. She modelled everything but encouragement and consideration – which I believe was at the core of her intention: to see her child to enjoy the park in peace and joy – just like my son. Yet somehow in the process, by default she felt she had to bulldoze this poor kid down. It made me wonder what happened to her that she felt she had to respond that way.
To correct or discipline a child and guide them elsewhere is one thing – but this woman was a bully. What was really sad was that I was one of many adults within view of this happening – and we were all stunned into doing and saying nothing – After all, someone volatile like this could turn on us… at least that’s what I thought.
What bothers me the most is that these were adults modelling the behaviour. They breed that bullying is okay.
Fact: A bully’s desire (conscious or unconscious) is to impose domination over someone. Intimidate someone. Gain power over someone. It is not just relational, it can be verbal, physical. It happens online all the time. The impact can be physical harm. But it is always emotionally painful and can leave a lifetime of psychological consequences.
So how can we best respond? Whether you are the recipient of the bullying or the innocent bystander watching it happen, we each have a role to play in teaching our kids (and other adults) what is right. If I is an adult am stunned, what does this do to a child? How can we make an impact in what seems like whatever we do might not matter? The truth is bullies won’t stop pushing people around… and the spirit of a child has to know how to stay standing strong though the blows that come.
Going Deeper: Think back to a situation when you were bullied. How did you respond to it? How did it make you feel? Did you get help or talk about it? Was there someone in early years who made an impact on you in building you up? How did it create resiliency in you? Can you remember how that felt?
Although it is hard to find anything accurate, this gives you an idea. Ask for the stats in your school or district.
Geared for US educators
In an age where most of us turn to our computers for affirmation be it through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other social media site, it is no surprise how natural it is to put a phone or iPad into the hands of our little ones. Not only to (inadvertently) teach them to do the same, but also to keep our time to ourselves. Make no mistake, over the past decade, this insideous action is changing the landscape of human interaction. Any gen-Xer knows it, but the millenials and Gen-Z’s don’t (it’s been the natural way of life for them!). Don’t get me wrong, technology is great – there is so much to behold. Literally.
So before you think I’m going to tell you to throw the baby out with the bathwater…consider asking yourself some honest questions. By doing so you may be able to find some creative ways to use technology – AND be intentionally present with your family.
How much attention do I give to my devices?
How often do I turn to my devices?
Am I giving as much attention to my child as I do to my devices?
How can I use technology to be present with my child?
It is a challenge but I’m aiming to be intentional about leaving my phone (in particular) aside – and only checking it every few hours for a few minutes. Texts included.
For example, every time I use my iPad with my child, I make sure I turn it on airplane mode to limit the amount of options we have (as well as the radiation to his growing body). I sit with him and play/watch him play games and then celebrate his achievements – All the while ensuring we have both eye and physical contact – for no more than 10 minutes.
I see far too many parents tossing their child an iPad or phone – leaving them to play with it for long or indefinite periods of time. Sure they’re distracted (I mean, don’t we need a break?) but they’re also isolated and in a little world all on their own. What is this teaching them? At younger and younger ages, they are learning that that is where they belong. And not with mom and dad in traditional social relationships.
So how about picking up the good old classic storybook? Or if you have older children, watch a documentary or a YouTube clip of some kind and discuss what it means to each of you.
Whether you integrate current technologies (computer devices) or older technologies (TVs, movies, books), be intentional to spend undivided physical and emotional attention together (eye contact, hold hands, sit your child on your lap) and most importantly, discuss and engage the good old-fashioned traditional social way!
Seriously though: as adults we’ve all been with people in restaurants who are constantly checking their phone and have felt the effects of that. Consider the reality of that feeling magnified in the heart of your child – who may be sensing that all day long. Sadly for some, being ignored enough will cause them to turn to a device for recognition and affirmation – after all, it’s what Mom and Dad do all the time. And so we shouldn’t be at all surprised when the day comes that they don’t open up to us at all.
Perhaps the most important question for us in all of this is: What am I modelling to my child? Many have heard the old adage, ‘So much of what a child learns is caught…and not taught’… What they see us doing is the loudest message of all. I believe their spirits ask, “Am I really as important as that phone?”
Give them the human attention they need as often as humanly possible as long as humanly possible.
For wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matt 6:21
Read More: Digital Technology and Youth
There is no greater gift than the privilege to raise or influence another human being. As with any gift, it should be appreciated and treasured in order for it to have the kind of impact it should. This is true of any material gift or not. The giver intends for the gift to produce something lasting and meaningful and to bless and enrich the person. It is from this perspective that I live to mould my child’s life.
Today was a break from the usual routine. I spent the day with a friend after a week of being a single mom (Len was in Phoenix golfing his heart out)… And as I drove home, I reflected on the distracting selfish pursuit of shopping and the lure of social media to occupy my thoughts and attention throughout the day, stealing the attention I could give to the relationship around me.
Once I got home, I entered our back yard to find Len telling Lucas to “show mommy how you can mow the lawn” as he zipped around the grass with his little bubble mower. Brightly smiling and brimming with pride, he sure showed me. Next Dad propped him up on our dead little tree stump showing off how he could balance on it all by himself. Seeing Len’s encouragement and Lucas’s mirrored actions tangibly revealed how the investment of time and attention Len gave produced such contagious joy and unfettered fearlessness in my little toddler. How simple and profound at the same time.
I like this picture because it reminds me that we are influencing how this little person will grow. I so want him to flourish and be fruitful in his life.
Every moment is a gift, every moment an opportunity to produce something lasting and meaningful. I don’t want to be distracted or miss out. There has to be balance for sure, but as long as I am mindful of this goal, the more I am sure to aim towards it. I will miss sometimes, but with practice, it will only get closer every time.