Let me start by saying, “I am not the perfect parent.” I knew that going in. Don’t we all?
But what I’ve discovered about parenting over the past month has really been eye-opening for me.
We approached this special hour of Dateline NBC with a simple question—We all try to be “good” parents, but are we being “effective”? Are the lessons we try to teach our children about critical decision-making moments really sticking with them?
To be honest, we brainstormed dozens of ideas that we could test in action. But we couldn’t fit that many in an hour of television so we had to limit ourselves to a few key areas.
We looked for issues that face kids from toddler-hood to adolescence and we chose four:
• What would children do if they witnessed bullying?
• Would teenagers get into a car with someone who they think has been drinking?
• How would they deal with a stranger at their front door?
• Would teenagers text while driving even when they know a camera is in the car?
And we turned the tables to ask kids how they view their parents’ use of hand-held technology. This is the one that really got to me.
I sat with a group of four to seven-year-olds who told me how “sad” they feel when mommy or daddy picks up the cell phone or Blackberry in the middle of playtime and starts typing or talking.
When I had a producer call me in the middle of our interview (to see how the kids would react), little Jake said, and I quote: “I feel like you don't even care about me. You only care about the phone.”
I went home that night and immediately talked with my own kids—ages five and seven. I knew I was guilty of the occasional lapse but, oh boy, did they give me an earful.
Since then, I’ve tried to enforce “no phone” zones and I’m more consciously trying to get down on their level and look them in the eye when they want my attention. Little things, I know, but they’ve noticed.
And there’s more. Children—even the little ones—told us they see mom and dad texting while driving. The teens said that’s one of the reasons they think it’s OK to do.
What else did I learn? We need to talk with our kids early and often about all of these subjects. And role playing—as weird as it might sound—is key. At my house we’ve been acting out what to do if someone comes to the door. For teens, we need to give them the tools to find a way out of a bad situation. All the experts say that we can help them to save face and avoid embarrassment if we parents make ourselves the bad guys. For example, saying “My Mom will take away my license if I get in the car with someone who’s been drinking so I just can’t” is a lot easier than trying to come up with an excuse.
I’ve told my friends to try and watch the hour with their kids. I hope you will too.
Watch exclusive videos from 'The Perils of Parenthood', airing Monday at 10pm/9c. The full hour can be viewed here.