Praying for perspective: Twelve minutes a day

That’s the average time a parent and child spend talking, and a parent regrets making it hard for his kids to share their feelings

By George Valadie

I can’t believe it, but I’ve just gotten started in my 58th year in the world of education. And though perhaps not diverse enough for some, I’m beyond proud that 56 of those have been within the arena of Catholic Schools.

Mom didn’t give me a choice for some.

These days, each summer, in addition to washing and waxing most everything in the place, we give considerable thought to the people inside it, too.

What can we do differently? How can we improve? And is there anything we can share with our parents to aid them in their ever-changing role as parents? Say what you will, I believe it’s a lot harder than it used to be, and technology makes it nuttier every day.

And then it hit me. I’ve got it. Though it was years ago, I recall having met a doctoral-degreed professor of education at a local university who was nearing retirement at the time.

Though I wish we’d done so more frequently, we met but three times before he moved. He was just one of those guys you loved from the start – common sense, easy-speaking, years of wisdom. If we spent 4-5 hours total, it felt more like 4-5 minutes.

But it was in our last chat, when he tossed out that one pearl that has stuck with me ever since.

It wasn’t his point but somewhere in our conversation he offered, “… studies show that the normal teenager and his/her parent average talking to each other about 12 minutes a day.”

Wait! What? Having been a dad of three of such mostly normal teens, and having my parenthood thusly insulted, I opened my mouth to object, but my eyes had already spoken. He could already see what was coming because he didn’t even let me get started.

“I know, I know,” he continued, “it sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? But that particular study has been replicated over and over, again and again, and it always comes out the same. The average amount of time that a teenager and his/her mom or dad – not both at once, mind you – the average time they spend in any sort of conversation totals 12 minutes a day.

“I’m not talking about texting, notes on the fridge, or phone calls about ‘what’s for dinner?’ … I’m talking about real conversation about real life.

“Twelve minutes! A day!”

Think about it; because I sure did.

Heck, at our house it seems we argued more than that.

But after pondering these supposed sins of my parenthood, I couldn’t say the man was crazy. In fact, he was a lot more right than I’d ever care to admit.

I go back.

I’m the first to admit that I was no morning person. I’m still not. I didn’t do any speaking that wasn’t absolutely necessary, and I said little more in the car on the way. I worked or coached until dinner but must admit that I never got to coach any of my own.

So apparently on most days, I’d logged zero minutes by dusk. To our credit, we did have family dinner … with most in attendance, unless I had a meeting. Surely, we talked around the table, didn’t we?

I know we talked about their grades (though I seem to remember doing most of that sort of talking). And I know we talked about their mischief (but once again, they weren’t allowed to say much on that topic).

Each after-dinner evening was filled with their homework, my newspaper, and all of us watching a few of our favorite television shows.

I really would love to tell you they let me in on all the good stuff about their boyfriends, their dates, their dreams, and their innermost feelings.

But truth be told, I think I made that hard for them. Seldom listening, always judging, now regretting.

The older ones seemed to live on the phone. The youngest moved to the web.

But none of them were talking to me.

Still, surely we talked more than 12 minutes a day. Surely?

Looking back, I realize they were smart kids, having learned to tell me what I wanted to hear, just to speed things along.

And now – today – there are no more teens in our home.

Two have husbands with kids and our third is out on her own, all leading the independent lives we had hoped they might.

It’s very quiet.

But luckily, we hear from each of them just about every day. All three call.

Katy loves Brady’s new school but bemoans his weekly kindergarten projects. Meg’s trying to grow a dental practice and her children without killing either. And Sarah is anxious about her new job while apparently her dog is anxious about clouds.

Three calls a day. About four minutes each.

If you’ve got young ones, this might be the best tip I can offer. If you’ve got some who have moved on, it’s never too late.

Dear God – Help us remember that we need to listen to each other … but only after we listen to you. Amen.

George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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