Steve Wiley: Parenting Three Words at a Time
Steve Wiley is Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood. He's a slightly unorthodox father of five who will weigh in weekly with his mildly rebellious views and observations. If you'd like to see how he came to write this column, watch the intro video. This week, he lists some powerful-yet-short statements for kids with short attention spans.
Short Attention Spans, Big Messages The following is not an understatement: Kids have short attention spans.
Yeah, I know, I'm Captain Obvious to most of my parental comrades out there, but you parental wanna-bes might not entirely understand just how short.
When they are young, they're investigating everything . . . not sitting and listening to you. When they are tweens, they are goofy and they're not paying attention to anything . . . or listening to you. When they are teens, they are distracted . . . and they're actually ignoring you.
On the flip side, you add all those short attention spans together, and the time goes by pretty quick. Supposedly, as parents, we are supposed to be "preparing them" for life, so the bottom line is that if you are gonna make a philosophical impression, you'd better do it quick. And you'd better make it count.
May I Have Your Attention, Kid? Pretty Please? (Note 1: This is where I provide the ongoing caveat that I absolutely make up parenting as I go. Call it a hypothesis, if you will.)
When you are trying to get through, I recommend short phrases. Shorter, the better.
Then you're gonna need repetition. Endless repetition. Even with your short phrases, you're still going to get through to them with about the same rate of success as a high schooler trying to hit Randy Johnson (that's right, I used a baseball metaphor. You gotta problem with that)? So say it again, Sam.
That still won't be enough. You'll have to add or subtract volume. You may have to use props and gimmicks. After all, you are their parents. They have the innate instinct to ignore you. Get creative, kid (I'm talking to you, the parent, but I call everyone "kid" now. It's another baseball thing).
It's a lot to go through just to teach a lesson or two, so most importantly, when it all comes together, make sure you've thought about the messages.
In other words, just what kind of philosophies or concepts are you going to support?
I look at it this way: If I can just get certain concepts into their clouded, under-developed heads, then I'll feel I've done some good -- at least by my definition of good (but that's another philosophical discussion).
What are some examples, Steve? I thought you'd never ask.
(I think I feel another "Jackalope List" coming on . . .)
Keep It Short, Dad.
(Note 2: In reference to Note 1, I just assembled the following list for the column. It isn't posted in the house anywhere.)
Here are five tiny but powerful concepts that I beat (not literally, although the urge does occasionally arise) into my kids' brains. Five big concepts that are three words each.
I'll expand a little on each concept, as I do with my punks whenever I see the opportunity (i.e., when I've got them in a captive environment), but the important thing is the imprint of the main concept.
1. In My Opinion. Love this one. It allows you to get off the fence and weigh in on any discussion. If you start off your sentence with "in my opinion," whatever follows isn't quite as controversial or volatile because you've openly declared that whatever you are saying is a theory, not necessarily a fact. Without that wonderful little qualifier, you come off like your opinion is a fact.
2. I Don't Know. In my opinion (you see how I did that?), this is the most powerful of all these lessons because when it comes to the really big questions of life and philosophy, it's the only absolute truth. I don't know. Neither do you. Neither does the guy in the robes. I tell the kids to just embrace that simple fact and never to pretend to know things they don't know. We weren't supposed to know.
3. It's My Fault. I could just shorten this to "I'm sorry," and surely the two phrases should go together -- but this is a three-word list, dammit. Besides, I remind my kids that admitting "it's my fault" is one step beyond sorry. It's acceptance and diffusion of a mistake that already happened -- and the beginning of whatever will happen beyond. Which leads me to phrase four.
4. Keep Moving Forward. My wife and I unabashedly stole this from Meet the Robinsons, which is a great movie. It was a favorite phrase of Walt Disney. It is, in our opinion, a key philosophy to embracing life. Accept it all, success and failure, pleasure and pain, and move forward. The moment rolls on, so like the water or the music, roll with it.
5. I Love You. How could I make a three-word list of important concepts and leave this out? Not to get all sappy or anything, but I guess I'm cool with this particular sap. Beyond cool with it. I am a love-beggin', snuggle-stealin', overgrown puppy. I truly cannot get enough, and my family is my main source of that power. (If I haven't gotten that across in these columns, then I can't write for shit.)
If the emotional rewards weren't enough, love appeals to my philosophical side as well. I don't know (see concept two) for sure, but I love the theory that God (or The Force or whatever you choose to call it) is love. The unified field, below the particle level, beyond scientific explanation.
So I tell my kids to embrace the love concept above all the rest. Love it all. People. Nature. Things. Thoughts. The works.
Remember, these are just my things. You may or may not want to try them on your kids (or yourself, depending on your observation point).
Did Dad Just Say Something?
Are my children getting the messages?
It's hard to tell. From my experience with my older girls -- with whom I didn't have nearly as much time to brainwash, er, indoctrinate, er, teach -- I won't really know until they hit their 20s.
But I'll keep delivering them just in case.
Three words at a time.
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