Children deserve our full attention

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- April is Month of the Military Child and Child Abuse Prevention Month. You probably know by now that 2010 is also the Year of the Air Force Family.

That's a lot of recognition of children, isn't it? Maybe that's because we realize the children of today are the parents, teachers and leaders of tomorrow.

We understand that when children are raised with love, safety and guidance, they flourish. Conversely, children who are neglected, abused or overly-indulged, but ignored, won't.

Lately, I have been paying closer attention to parents with their kids, both on and off base. Essentially, there appears to be less and less direct interaction between parent and child, and more parental communication and "guidance" from behind a cell phone, mp3 player or computer.

The best way to explain my concern is to relate my experience at a local mall a couple of weekends ago. I had taken my soon to be 16-year-old daughter (and all my cash) to go "pre-birthday shopping" (a phenomenon not yet discovered when I was 16).

As I sat on a bench outside a store waiting for her, I couldn't help but smile at a little girl, maybe 4 years old, who was busily "practicing" the skill of shoe-tying. She was very close, but hadn't quite mastered it, and as she sat across from me with her mother, she was completely absorbed in the task.

Biting her lip, she worked on tying, then untying, tying, then untying -- while her mother texted on a cell phone.

Suddenly, she called out "Mommy, look!! I did it!! I tied my shoe!"

Grinning up at her mother, she waited with a totally open, shining face from her mom to acknowledge the hard work and mastery of this new skill.

Never breaking eye contact with her cell phone, mom absently replied, "That's great, honey."

The little girl persisted.

"No, mommy, look. Look at my shoe!"

Still mom texted, this time offering a less interested, "Uh huh, that's great."

Needless to say, the little girl's joy had evaporated, and for what? A text message?

I didn't know that little girl, but I wanted to scoop her up and tell her what an awesome job she had done, and that I was very proud of her.

That's just one example. I regularly see otherwise good parents -- great parents, even -- who are making a big mistake by parenting their children from behind their cell phones. I realize I may be ruffling some feathers out there, and that's OK with me.

But think about it: What possible validation can a small child feel each time she or he tries to look into mom or dad's eyes, but can't make contact because the Internet or a text message is more important?

Think hard, because your child, that same child who it seems will be in diapers forever or will never learn to talk or is just so clingy, will one day be independent.

Form the bond of your relationship now, and realize that you build the foundation of her self-esteem right then, when she is learning to tie her shoes. It won't wait until you finish that text message.

Some grandmotherly advice: Do the right thing. Put the cell phones down. Stop texting. Turn off the computer. Turn to your children and look at them, face to face.

Be the parent who is "there" if and when you are needed. I promise, you don't get a second chance.