I know a trick for making friends with shy babies – I look at their chins or cheeks and allow them to study my face, because even babies as young as 3 or 4 months understand the powerful intimacy of making eye contact.
Thanks to cell phones (and other screens), we’re losing the art of making eye contact when we talk to each other. When I talk to teens about this social issue, they admit their own guilt and vow to do better. At least their intentions are good!
But then another issue invariably pops up – their parents‘ use of cell phones. Common complaints include: “Why is it I can’t use my phone at dinner, but my parents can?” “My mom won’t look up from her phone when I’m talking to her, but I get in trouble if I do that!” “It really scares and frustrates me when my dad talks on his phone while he’s driving.”
As with most parenting issues, you’ve got to model the behavior you expect from your children. If you’re new to smart phones, you’ll find it’s tempting to stop and read every email and reply to every text. If you’ve had one for a while, you might be a constant phone-checker. I recommend setting your email to “manual,” so that your phone doesn’t notify you every time you have a new message, and beware of obsessively checking weather or game scores or when it’s your turn to make a move.
Not too far down the road is the day your only communication will be via electronic means because of college or adult obligations. Take advantage of your chance to make eye contact today. Put down your phone, look up from your tablet, turn away from your computer. Look your teen in the eye, because even if you don’t say the words, the message is still there – “I love you and I care.”