"Dad, are you staying home today? Can we go swimming together or go to a movie?"
"Well, no. I can't. If I were on vacation today I would gladly stay home and do those things. Perhaps when I get home this evening we can do something like that."
"Why do you have to go to work? It's summer."
"I know it is summer. But we've talked about this before -- I still have to go to work."
"Why? We don't have to go to school."
"Well, I know. But when you're an adult there's no such thing as 'summer vacation.' For adults, 'summer' just means that it's really hot when you go to work."
"Please stay home."
Pretty endearing, huh? My kids' notion that an almost three-month break from school for them equates to a three-month break from work is charming. (In some ways, I wish it were true.) But what they're longing for is just time together with their dad and family.
It's too bad family time is taking a big hit these days. As families, we Americans are spending less time together. Sadly, technology deserves some of the blame.
A growing number of studies has shown that technology in many forms takes away from time we spend with family. For instance, the University of Wisconsin found that cell phones, Blackberries and other PDAs are binding people to their jobs in an unprecedented way, to the point where family time suffers. Parents bring their job worries home, stressing out themselves, their spouses and their children. The study found this was particularly true of women.
Being constantly "plugged in" has become more than an adult problem. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children and teens spend an average of six hours a day engaged with electronic media, up one hour from five years ago. The average American household has the television set turned on 8 hours and 11 minutes every day.
In a study on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, research at the University of Southern California found that 28 percent of Americans are spending less time with their family members -- almost three times what it was in 2006.
Michael Gilbert, a USC researcher, said, "It can't be a good thing that families are spending less face-to-face time together. Ultimately it leads to less cohesive and less communicative families."
He's right. Technology is crowding out the already limited time families have to spend with one another.
So where does all of this leave us? Certainly technology is invaluable to us as a society and plays an important role in nearly every aspect of our lives. However, like all good things, it can be used in excess. Spending dinner time on our BlackBerrys or forgoing outdoor play with our kids in favor of watching DVDs or playing video games robs valuable time that we could be spending with them.
I realize it's not groundbreaking to say that families benefit from spending time together. In fact, the organization in which I serve, Georgia Family Council, surveyed Georgia parents about this issue several years ago and found that three-quarters agree that, "To raise children properly, a parent must spend a lot of time with each child every day."
However, in the same survey more than eight out of 10 parents seemed to contradict themselves by indicating it was more important to spend quality time with a child rather than a large amount of time. Perhaps parents recognize that while the bottom line is they must have high-quality interaction with their children, practically speaking, the only way that quality time will be achieved is by investing a significant quantity of time in the relationship.
Unfortunately, sometimes I think we parents justify limited time with our kids by promising ourselves it will be "quality time." But the fact of the matter is, our kids just want our time, period. So don't miss this: quality time happens within large quantities of time.
A researcher quoted in a Newsweek article titled "The Myth of Quality Time" put this in stark terms. He said, "I think quality time is just a way of deluding ourselves into short-changing our children. Children need vast amounts of parental time and attention. It's an illusion to think they're going to be on your time table, and that you can say 'OK, we've got half an hour, let's get on with it.'"
We know from years of research that the more time children spend with their parents, the less likely they are to engage in harmful behaviors such as promiscuity or violence. Even the simple habit of eating frequent meals together has been linked to lower rates of illegal drug use, drinking and teen smoking.
With all the messages our kids are bombarded with every day from the media and their peers, our voice should be the one they hear most often. Unfortunately, the time we need to talk with them and teach them to make good choices is getting crowded out.
Look, it's both simple and difficult: we need to make some hard decisions about how we and our kids prioritize our time. It may involve turning off the television, shutting off our BlackBerrys, logging off Facebook or any number of distractions. No matter how important those things may seem to us, we need to be as purposeful about spending time together as a family as we are about spending time with technology.
To quote national fatherhood expert Ken Canfield, "Kids spell love T-I-M-E."
Randy Hicks is president of Georgia Family Council.
For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, 770-242-0001, firstname.lastname@example.org.