by Joe Hyland
Nearly nine years ago, while working as the clinical director of a treatment facility for at risk adolescents I heard a shocking statistic – the average American father spends only 13 minutes per day with their children! My experience working with families has turned up similar findings and, while 13 minutes may be the low side of the norm, an hour a day has proven to be on the high side. As such, it has confirmed contributing factors at the root of the deep-seeded anger I have witnessed in so many of the adolescents that I have coached, taught or counseled. While these young people come from various backgrounds, there was a consistent similarity among them – lack of time together as a family.It has been said that manifesting their love for one another is the greatest thing parents can do for their children. This is a natural, organic process that happens over time – random and unscheduled moments – and it is done on a consistent basis with consistent effort. The often quoted “quality time over quantity time” is a mythical rationalization which serves only to justify the abdication of parental responsibility in the family. The reality is that life presents questions and challenges which rarely fit nicely into a planner. Children transition through milestones in often unperceived ways, provoked by events that are usually unforeseen and often unknown to parents. So, if our children are walking through the gauntlet of development and all of the trappings therein, it is crucial that parents are attentive, diligent and intentional about the irreplaceable interaction required of them in the lives of their children. Family time allows for the all important development of a sense of stability and the necessary experience of security that emboldens the awareness of being valued which is essential to mental health and also serves as the bedrock of a type of fortitude required to weather the trials inherent in life.Family time is vital to the life and culture of each individual family. Time together as a family offers the opportunity to teach, supervise, model, listen, laugh, pray, grieve, relax, discipline, explore, grow and challenge, all in the safe setting provided by the presence of one’s family. Of course, it should be stated that such time together allows for parental supervision which is essential to the healthy development of our children. This type of family time includes family meals or prayer, various projects or chores, as well as family games and recreation.Unfortunately, there exists a litany of examples whereby parents sabotage time together as a family by overbooking their calendars with work or activities and other events as they run the matrix of modern life. I have witnessed countless situations where parents are both out of the home earning fortunes while their children make do without them and when parents return, exhausted from often futile materialistic pursuits, their children are perceived as nuisances to be medicated, quite honestly, because many parents are too exhausted to meet their various needs. This is an epidemic as statistics continually show the increasingly alarming rate at which both parents and children are being medicated. I believe this stems from parents being aware that something is amiss but often unable to unplug from the fast-paced matrix they live in while, for kids, the message received is that they simply do not matter, they are not valued. The fact is that so much of what is troubling families can be overcome by spending more time together, and intentionally working at making the time spent together as a family one of quality.One of the most important objective characteristics of family time is parental supervision. Even when we are not engaged in a planned event or a formal activity, time together allows for parents to actively supervise their children. By supervising their children, parents are then able to model and, as needed, correct inappropriate or unacceptable behaviors while rewarding desired behavior. The opportunity to supervise one’s child is most available to those parents who intentionally safeguard their time together as a familyChildren need to be able to rely upon their parents to be there for them not just physically but emotionally as well. When this happens, children learn to trust their parents and feel safe as well. This combination provides a much needed sense of security that makes healthy development possible. Unfortunately, when the supervision of a parent is not the norm within a family, children come to the conclusion that they cannot count on or trust their parents and, subsequently many children withdraw and often become emotionally attached to negative peer groups or various cultural icons who invariably do not hold the same values for children that parents do. So, such children invariably behave in ways consistent with their peer groups which are increasingly not only negative groups but also groups that behave in ways that are altogether antithetical to the beliefs and behaviors that parents desire for their children. Thus, between the point of the displaced emotional attachment of a child due to a lack of family time, wherein parental supervision should take place and the inevitable call that I receive to help such families, exists a litany of unhealthy and terribly sad statistics.To parent with purpose is to make an investment in your children. This requires that we familiarize ourselves not only with what to do to purposefully raise our children but also to recognize the importance of parenting in such a way given the near inevitabilities that occur if we do not.Many of the difficulties that families are currently dealing with stem from a lack of parental investment in the lives of their children. The good news is that the active presence of parents within the family setting on a consistent basis can overcome the troubles they face and those seeking to parent with purpose can choose this day to begin anew and make family time the most important time of every day.Joe is now a licensed counselor by the State of South Carolina.