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That Silence Says A Lot: What Are You Paying Attention To?

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When you don’t hear back from a text or an email, it usually means someone is upset. We’re getting trained to expect immediate feedback and immediate responses to everything. And while that is a double-edged sword, there are a few things we can take away from the new NOW-focused attention.

  1. You respond quickly when it’s something you want.
  2. You respond quickly when the answer is an easy yes or no.
  3. When you don’t respond you’re saying maybe, which often means no.
  4. You might be busy, which is why you don’t respond, but if that’s the case, you would’ve already said, “Hey, heading out for a bit…”
  5. When you don’t respond you’re ignoring the question/request/offer.

When I’m dealing with my kids via electronic devices I tend to answer immediately to everything. In my current life, there are no higher priorities than my kids. They get my full attention unless I’m in a movie or asleep. And they’ve come to rely on my swift responses when they need something. That is a good thing.

For some reason, their mom has gone in the opposite direction. Perhaps it’s a parenting strategy I don’t know about, something about growing them up making them independent. But they don’t really understand it either when neither of the three of us can raise their mom via text or phone call. Again, there are certain circumstances where this “miss” is perfectly acceptable and even expected. And then there are all the other reasons you might ignore a text or phone call.

I have been stranded with the kids, wanting to ask her a simple logistics or scheduling question in-the-heat-of-the-moment and gotten NOTHING for hours. The kids experience this all the time. They no longer expect her to respond. I don’t think this is a good thing.

And when the issue is more critical, what’s the excuse? Perhaps my ex-wife is just trying to get control over the digital tether. Perhaps she ignores my texts when she’s angry. (Of course, the excuse in all cases is “busy” or “didn’t see the message until now,” but when you are with this person, their attention to their phone is actually a bit unnerving. Obsessive, perhaps.)

I think we need to talk about it, all four of us. If there were some crisis that needed immediate attention we all need to be on the same page. Maybe there’s a SIGNAL we can attach to a text that would elicit a quicker response. What if the issue were medical and not just drop-off timing?

When you ignore your kid’s messages and voicemails you are giving them a very powerful message about their priority in your life. There is nothing you can say afterward, the exasperation has already taken place. This is never a happy response, “I don’t know, I can’t reach her and she’s not responding.”

Do you have a good way of communicating with your kids during the off times? How about an emergency broadcast alert that you append to a text, perhaps a 911 prefix? I’m looking for clues at how to do this better. And a family meeting to discuss is the next step. This isn’t a divorce issue, it’s a parenting with teens issue.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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image: distractions, cc 2014 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

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