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Holding onto our kids in a peer-driven digital world

It has never been harder than in the 21st century to establish and maintain close, meaningful bonds with your children and to remain the most powerful influence in their lives.

Family bonding

Contributed by Gordon Neufeld

Digital devices provide kids with the capacity to connect with each other like never before. No longer confined by geography, classroom walls or home children have unprecedented access to a constant stream of friends, information and entertainment. While our kids emerge as savvy inhabitants of this digital world, parents are left to monitor, negotiate and police their child’s online interactions and activities.

The ability to keep our children close lies in cultivating deep, strong, caring relationships with them. You cannot take care of a child if you do not have their trust and their heart. Parents need to take responsibility for their relationship with their kids — here are five ways to do it.

Convey the invitation to exist in your presence

Use smiles, nods and an overall sense of warmth to create a connection between the two of you and invite your child into the relationship. By expressing warmth, you show that you are the one to take care of them and provide for their relational needs.

Nurture to fulfill their hunger for closeness

Seize the lead in the relationship. Provide generously for your child’s need for contact and closeness to convey that you’re their best bet for love. If your child needs a hug, give three in return.

Preserve your connection at all times

Show through words and actions that your love is unconditional even when behavior, unmet expectations and strong emotions get in the way. While rules and reminders of appropriate conduct when infractions occur are necessary, the parent must also communicate that the relationship is still intact no matter what the circumstance.

Protect against competing activities and attachments

Create structure and rules around the use of communication devices and peer interaction. No devices at dinnertime. Dinner should be the time to stop, listen and signal warmth, love and connection. Keep communication devices in family spaces, not in their rooms. These types of rules preserve and protect your relationship with your child. Most importantly, lead by example. We cannot let our love for our new tools blind us to the responsibility we have in creating a context for their safe use in and out of the home.

Build a village of like-minded adults

Create a network that you trust. Take an active role in introducing and matchmaking your children to adults who are responsible for them. Coaches, teachers or extended family members are potential attachment figures that can provide for a child’s needs rather than leaving them to their own devices and often in the hands of their peers.

Social media and the enhanced capacity to keep one’s peers close was born from our children’s relational hunger for each other and fuels it today. The best way to prevent losing them to their peers and an online world are to develop deep nourishing relationships with the adults responsible for them. If we do our job and hold on to our kids, they are more likely to hold on to us.

About the author:

Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist, a foremost authority on child development, and an acclaimed international speaker and coauthor of Hold On To Your Kids. He was recently a faculty member at a parenting conference at Omega Institute called Hold On To Your Kids: Parenting in the 21st Century.

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