We went to dinner last night for my hubby's birthday because he had a coupon for a free meal. I am a people watcher, so I was noticing the different dynamics around us. A family of five came in, mom, dad, three daughters that I would guess were ages 12-16. They sat in the booth behind us. I turned around to check on the Zags score, and noticed the girls were all talking. I paid a little closer attention, without trying to look noisy. They were talking, but mom and dad weren't paying any attention. The girls were desperately trying to engage their parents in conversation, but they could not draw them away from their cell phones. I have to tell you that one of my biggest pet peeves is when someone is on their cell phone while they are in a restaurant, especially if they are with someone else, especially if it's their kids. Neither mom nor dad were talking on their phones, mom was playing games, and dad was texting, neither one even acknowledging that anyone else was around them. The girls started to talk louder, all three looking at their parents, with hopeful smiles that maybe, just maybe they would get some acknowledgement from their parents. It never happened. The hope in their eyes turned to sadness and disappointment as the night went on, and soon, they stopped talking as well.
As someone who has worked with teens and preteens for over 20 years, I wanted to say something, or take away their phones, but I didn't. I know how kids yearn for their parents attention, and if they can't get it in a positive way like these three girls were trying, they will act out and get it in a negative way. I know a lot of parents of teens who say their kids don't want them in their lives, but as someone who listens to what those kids are saying, believe me, they do! Right now, my husband and I are working with teens who have been, or are, in a lot of trouble. When you actually get them to open up, there is one constant in each of their lives-parents who are absent. That absence can be physically, but it can also be a parent who has checked out from their kids lives emotionally. Most of these kids are raising themselves, even though they live with a parent/parents. Mom and/or dad are too busy with their lives to worry about their kids, so the kids do what they want because no one cares. The teens we are working with long for their parents love and affection. They figure if they go to juvie, at least someone notices them. If you have kids, take time to engage in conversation with them, really hear what they are saying. Listen with your heart and your ears. Put the cell phones away, let the job or housework take a break for awhile, and spend some time with your kids. Invest in their future, by being there in their present, their here and now.