Dear Lauren,

I feel bad and I don’t know what to do. My father just doesn’t seem interested in me. I think he doesn’t like me. He’s always on his phone, texting or talking or checking his emails, and he just ignores me. I read your article on emotional abuse, and it’s not like that – he’s not mean to me like that – he just doesn’t seem to notice I’m around. I’d appreciate some advice, if you have any.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

You really hit the nail on the head, didn’t you? Unfortunately, I think most kids today are experiencing what you describe. Unfortunately, I think parents today have become so attached to their cell phones and computers that they’ve forgotten to live.

I heard a song on the radio today. The lyrics caught my attention, because I had just read your question. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it: “We should stare at the stars and not just the screens/ You should hear what I'm saying and know what it means/ We're scared of drowning, flying and shooters/ But we're all slowly dying in front of computers.”

All of us – parents and kids alike – are absorbed in the worlds on our screens. Our big TV screens, our computer screens, the screens of our handheld devices. We all need to look up more often, in my opinion, to see the stars, the trees, the faces of our loved ones and dear ones and friends and neighbors.

A rabbi we know well said to us: “Do you want to hear a great story?” “Sure!” we replied, waiting for a relatively long and involved tale. This was his story: “Today my daughter said to me: ‘Dad, do you want to take a walk together?’ Isn’t that a beautiful story?”

It’s actually one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever heard.

This is the problem: we parents are only human. And we are imperfect. And we make mistakes. And we forget to do the right thing. It’s not (always) because we’re bad or mean or rotten. It’s just because we need reminders now and then from you guys.

I suggest you tell your father how you feel. This would be a good script: “Dad, I love spending time with you. [Notice how you start by saying the positive, so he knows this conversation is about how much you love him. That always helps keep the other person non-defensive.] I feel we don’t spend as much time together as I would like. [Notice that I didn’t say, “I feel we never spend time together.” That could result in his saying, “Of course we spend time together!” But if you say, “I feel we don’t spend as much time together as I would like,” he can’t say “Yes, we do!” to that, because you’re just stating your opinion.] Could we make a time to be together and take a walk/go fishing/go bowling/roller blade/ go for coffee, and make it a no-phones zone? I miss you!” [Notice that the suggestion is a concrete outing, instead of a commitment on his part to not look at his cell phone ever when you’re together. This is a good portal to the next part…]

First I would let him respond. I’m sure he’ll agree to spend time with you on an outing. Make sure to set a definite time and day. I would make the outing an hour long. Then you can continue: “You know, I like spending time with you. It would mean a lot to me if you paid more attention to me when we’re together. I feel like maybe your cell phone is more interesting to you than I am, and that makes me sad.” [Notice I snuck the word “maybe” into that sentence. Again, this script is designed to tell your dad how you feel without making him defensive.]

I would give him a chance to respond. Then I would ask your really important question that you posed to me: “Dad, I want to ask you something, and I want you to please tell me the truth. [Wait for him to say he’ll be honest with you.] Do you like me, or is there something about me that makes you not want to be with me? Am I boring to you?

That question will be the hardest one for both of you: it will be really tough for you to ask it, and it will be really hard for your dad to hear it. You may both cry. But it’s a really effective way to remind your dad that he’s paying too much attention to his voicemails, emails, texts, and everything else on his cell phone, and not enough attention to his child.

“Let go of your cell phone and live!”

If your father won’t agree to spend time with you, then talk to another adult you trust about that. That’s a problem on his part. Talk to a rabbi, a therapist, a teacher, a principal, or even an older, wiser friend. You can get the support you need from them.

If, when you ask him, your father says, “Yes, there are things I don’t like about you,” maybe suggest that the two of you talk with a therapist so you can work out the kinks in your relationship so you can be closer.

I love the book Always Kiss Me Goodnight: Instructions on Raising the Perfect Parent – by 147 Kids Who Know. It’s written by J.S. Salt, who interviewed kids and wrote their answers as that book. He asked them to finish the sentence: "If I could tell my parents how to raise me, I'd tell them...”

What I love about it is how many of the kids wrote about wanting more attention from their parents, just doing everyday things together. They wrote about just sitting and talking, having dinner together, having a family game night, going fishing together. Most didn’t want big trips or fancy presents. They just wanted simple face-to-face time with their moms and dads.

So you are not alone in your feelings and in your situation. You kids sometimes have to remind us parents of the right thing to do. In the words of one of the children in J.S. Salt’s book: “Let go of your cell phone and live!”