Without wanting to heap guilt on the heads of my masculine readers, I must say that too many fathers only sleep at their homes. And as a result, they have totally abdicated their responsibilities for leadership and influence in the lives of their children.
An article in Scientific American entitled "The Origins of Alienation," by Urie Bronfenbrenner best describes the problems facing today's families. Dr. Bronfenbrenner is, in my opinion, the foremost authority on child development in America, and his views should be considered carefully. In this article, Dr. Bronfenbrenner discussed the deteriorating status of the American family and the forces which are weakening its cohesiveness. More specifically, he is concerned about the circumstances which are seriously undermining parental love and depriving children of the leadership and love they must have for survival.
One of those circumstances is widely known as the "rat-race." Dr. Bronfenbrenner described the problem this way, "The demands of a job that claim mealtimes, evenings and weekends as well as days; the trips and moves necessary to get ahead or simply to hold one's own; the increasing time spent commuting, entertaining, going out, meeting social and community obligations...all of these produce a situation in which a child often spends more time with a passive babysitter than with a participating parent."
According to Dr. Bronfenbrenner, this rat race is particularly incompatible with fatherly responsibilities, as illustrated by a recent investigation which yielded startling results. A team of researchers wanted to learn how much time middle-class fathers spend playing and interacting with their small children. First, they asked a group of fathers to estimate the time spent with their one-year-old youngsters each day, and received an average reply of fifteen to twenty minutes. To verify these claims, the investigators attached microphones to the shirts of small children for the purpose of recording actual parental verbalization. The results of this study are shocking: The average amount of time spent by these middle-class fathers with their small children was thirty-seven seconds per day! Their direct interaction was limited to 2.7 encounters daily, lasting ten to fifteen seconds each! That, so it seems, represents the contribution of fatherhood for millions of America's children.
Let's compare the thirty-seven-second interchanges between fathers and small children with another statistic. The average preschool child watches between 30 and 50 hours of television per week (the figures vary from one study to another). What an incredible picture is painted by those two statistics. During the formative years of life, when children are so vulnerable to their experiences, they're receiving thirty-seven seconds a day from their fathers and thirty or more hours a week from commercial television! Need we ask where our kids are getting their values?
Someone observed, "Values are not taught to our children; they are caught by them." It is true. Seldom can we get little Johnny or Mary to sit patiently on a chair while we lecture to them about God and the other important issues of life. Instead, they are equipped with internal "motors" which are incapable of idling. Their transmissions consist of only six gears: run, jump, climb, crawl, slide and dive. Boys and girls are simply not wired for quiet conversations about heavy topics.
How, then, do conscientious parents convey their attitudes and values and faith to their children? It is done subtly, through the routine interactions of everyday living. We saw this fact illustrated in our own home when Danae was ten years old and Ryan was five. We were riding in the car when we passed a porno theater. I believe the name of the particular movie was "Flesh Gordon," or something equally sensuous.
Danae, who was sitting in the front seat, pointed to the theater and said,
"That's a dirty movie, isn't it, Dad?"
I nodded affirmatively.
"Is that what they call an X-rated movie?" she asked.
Again, I indicated that she was correct.
Danae thought for a moment or two, then said, "Dirty movies are really bad, aren't they?"
I said, "Yes, Danae. dirty movies are very evil."
This entire conversation lasted less than a minute, consisting of three brief questions and three replies. Ryan, who was in the back seat, did not enter into our discussion. In fact, I wondered what he thought about the interchange, and concluded that he probably wasn't listening.
I was wrong. Ryan heard the conversation and apparently continued thinking about it for several days. But amusingly, Ryan did not know what a "dirty movie" was. How would a five-year-old boy learn what goes on in such places, since no one had ever discussed pornography with him? Nevertheless, he had his own idea about the subject. That concept was revealed to me four nights later at the close of the day.
Ryan and I got down on our knees to say his bedtime prayer, and the preschooler spontaneously returned to that conversation earlier in the week.
"Dear Lord," he began in great seriousness, "help me not to go see any dirty movies...where everyone is spitting on each other."
For Ryan, the dirtiest thing he could imagine would be a salivary free-for-all. That would be dirty, I had to admit.
But I also had to acknowledge how casually children assimilate our values and attitudes. You see, I had no way of anticipating that brief conversation in the car. It was not my deliberate intention to convey my views about pornography to my children. How was it that they learned one more dimension of my value system on that morning? It occurred because we happened to be together...to be talking to one another.
Those kinds of subtle, unplanned interactions account for much of the instruction that passes from one generation to the next. It is a powerful force in shaping young lives, if parents prioritize spending time at home with their kids; if they have the energy to converse with them; if they have anything worthwhile to transmit; if they care.
From Dr. Dobson's book What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women.