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Monday, January 31, 2011

Building kids of character: Quality time defined

by Deborah Hansen

“To go from a boy to a man is a very long road, which needs the help of older men…. but older men are working overtime or retiring to Florida….

Young girls abandoned by their father may go into depression, but young men will burn your city down.”

Once and Future Myths, by Phil Cousineau

It is time for us to accept the fact that what our society is doing for our children isn’t working very well. Don’t get me wrong: Many parents embrace their roles as the builders of character, but there are thousands of others who are not picking up that banner. Their children are left to find their way to adulthood on their own, and look where that has led us. We live in a community that reverberates with violence, and those ripples permeate every corner of town.

Calls for mentors go unanswered. A few folks trickle in, but the need is much greater than a trickle. We need a flood of adults who are willing to give ONE HOUR A WEEK to a young person who has no one to ask important questions of, or show them how to dress for a job interview, or just listen to their hearts. If everyone who attended a football game in this town gave an hour to mentoring, the children within our reach would benefit for the rest of their lives. Plus, our city would be a safer place to live. It’s that simple.

Related to this, there are probably few of us who haven’t read at least one book or watched one television program that encourages us to spend “quality time” with our children. The statistics in support of the concept would most likely reach around the globe. The studies also provide data about the dire consequences that lie ahead for children who don’t get the time they need from the important adults in their lives, all reflective of the quote above by Phil Cousineau.

We need to be clear, though, on exactly what constitutes “quality time.” Some folks seem to think merely being in the presence or their children qualifies, but quality time is not:

■picking the kids up from school or practice and then talking to your friends or office on the cell phone all the way home.
■eating at the same time but in different rooms.
■seeing a movie together but not discussing it when it’s over.
■going to the mall together but taking off in different directions until it’s time to leave.
■taking the family out for dinner but not allowing the kids to get involved in the conversation.
■asking your children what they think and then condemning them for their answer.

I think you get the picture. Quality time means active engagement. It means talking to your children and then listening to them in return. We must discover who our kids are underneath the façade they like to present to us and their peers. We should also be prepared to share ourselves with them, complete with the mistakes we made and what we learned from those mistakes. It means attending to one another.

Many young women are depressed, lost in a media-drenched view of the world that is warped beyond comprehension. And young men are burning cities down. We must all carry a share of responsibility for these children.

Yes, that means you.

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