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Conventional Thinking: Absent-parent parenting

Many of today’s college-age people were raised by so-called “helicopter parents,” who coddled and cuddled children to a fault.

In a recent column, Oklahoma Wesleyan University president Everett Piper decried one such student in his midst—a possible product of this kind of parenting—who complained he felt “victimized” because he was offended by a sermon he heard in chapel.

Piper said, to many applauding, “This is not a day care. This is a university.”

Indeed, many sociologists do agree that Millennials and others have grown up more coddled and overly-protected, which makes for a hard entry into the real world.

It would be a mistake, though, to think that is the main concern with today’s children. I am talking about children from ages 3 to 13, who are not over protected, but are, instead, thrown to the wolves, the digital wolves of the Internet world.

A recent study showed that three out of four children, by the age of five, have their own digital device. Many of these kids have unfettered and unsupervised access to the Internet, which offers easy access to lies, gossip and pornography. Meanwhile, these same kids are being parented by parents who are addicted to digital media.

Go to the average McDonald’s playground, and you will quickly see what I mean. Playing on the playground, you see four-year-old Timmy playing, while his dad “watches” from a distance while playing, working and chatting on his smartphone.

These parents, to their credit, are present in their child’s life. At the same time, they are utterly absent. This does not just happen at the playground. It happens at previously uninterrupted family time places, such as the dinner table and home.

Absent-present parenting today can be stopped. Here are three lessons I am trying to learn.

/// Put it down

Working parents used to bring home a briefcase with some work to do, if they found the time. Today, with smartphones and modern jobs, the work never stops, and email, texts and phone calls are ever present. If your job allows, take the simple step of setting your phone down for long periods of time. You can check it every hour or so, but this one step will do wonders.

/// Take a break

I, like many of you, spend hours a week on social media for work and recreation. If we are not careful, though, we will spend our entire lives staring at a 2-inch by 4-inch screen, instead of looking into the eyes of the people God put around us. It is very freeing to take a break from Internet and social media.

/// Be present and pray

The next time you feel the impulse to check your phone and you are with your children or others, turn that into your cue to pray. By committing to be present and pray more, you will have a refreshing impact on others, and you yourself will be refreshed.

By the time today’s three-year-olds are in college, who knows what the long-term effect of absent-present parenting will be? Perhaps there will be a University president somewhere saying “This is not a smartphone lounge. This is a university.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Today, we can curb our poor parenting habits, one day, one action at a time. It starts with you and me.

Brian Hobbs

Author: Brian Hobbs

Brian is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

View more articles by Brian Hobbs.

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