I was in the car with my kids recently when I flipped the radio to an 80s station. The totally awesome 1981 song, “Words,” by Missing Persons was playing. If you aren’t familiar with it, the chorus says over and over:
Do you hear me? Do you care?
While I was lost in thought wondering what happened to the band Missing Persons (pun intended), Nathan broke the silence: “That sounds like mommy.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. Then the chorus came on again:
Do you hear me? Do you care?
I started laughing so hard I had tears coming out of my eyes. Nathan associated this song’s chorus with my own attempts to get his attention! While I may not say those exact words, the meaning is the same, and he knew it.
It can be ridiculously hard to get our kids’ attention much of the time. They’re in their own little worlds and mommy and daddy often get tuned out. It’s no different when it comes to getting their spiritual attention – we have to work at it.
In my professional life, I’m in marketing. One thing marketers specialize in is getting people’s attention. This little episode with Nathan made me think of the psychological factors driving attention that I learned back in business school. They are directly applicable to spiritual attention as well!
If you’d like to better get your kids’ spiritual attention, here are the three key factors to understand:
1. How They Are Feeling
When people are in a bad mood or are tired, their ability to pay attention to something external is extremely low. We all experience that, but kids experience it even more significantly because their moods swing back and forth so frequently.
For a long time, I’ve been willing to fight discipline battles during our family worship because I wanted to ensure that I got through the full message of what I wanted the kids to hear no matter how tired and cranky they are. In the last couple of weeks I’ve started to read my kids more and adjust accordingly. When they’re feeling good, I’ll go into much more depth on our Bible lesson. When they’re being little tyrants, I’ll keep it short and to the point, knowing that their attention level and ability to process is low. It has made all the nights more positive.
The Takeaway: Pay attention to how your kids are feeling so you can more effectively time your conversations and minimize frustration on everyone’s part. When kids are in a bad mood, it’s an almost insurmountable attention barrier. Don’t force it.
2. How Relevant the Information Is
A second factor that influences attention is how relevant something is to a person. There are two types of relevance to understand:
- Intrinsic relevance: This means something is innately, naturally relevant to a person based on their interests. You might have a child who loves church and one who fights you over it weekly, for example, just because church is more innately interesting to one of your kids than the other.
- Situational relevance: This means that something not naturally relevant to a person can become relevant in certain situations. For example, if you aren’t in the market for buying a new car, you probably pay no attention to the car ads you see and hear. But when the time comes for your next car purchase, you start paying attention to every ad and look at every car driving in the lanes next to you. That’s because cars have become situationally relevant (the situation is that you’re ready to buy one).
Marketers know that it’s very difficult to increase intrinsic relevance (you can’t easily make buying a new car relevant to someone not in the market!). So, marketers focus on developing situational relevance – either creating situations to make a product relevant (e.g., a giant sale) or maximizing relevance when a situation naturally arises (e.g., advertising exercise equipment around January 1 – the “New Year” situation).
The Takeaway: If you’re having trouble getting your kids’ spiritual attention because they just aren’t innately interested in faith, your best opportunity will come from creating situational relevance – identifying how you can incorporate faith into what they are innately interested in. For example, if they like sports, find a Christian sports group. If they are upset that kids at school are being mean, use it as an opportunity to say, “The Bible has answers that will help you deal with that. Let’s look.” If they want to talk about astronomy, use it as an opportunity to frame the discussion in terms of how God designed the universe. If they like crafts, make some to take to a Senior Living Center, then talk about why it feels good to do that (because we’re living the way God designed us to live – those feelings are built in!).
3. How Prominent Your Message Is
The third influencer of attention is how much a person sees and experiences a message. This cuts both ways: if you only see one ad for something per month, it’s not prominent enough in your life to grab your attention; if you hear the same ad 32 times in one day, it’s so prominent that you tune it out.
The Takeaway: If you only take your kids to church on Sunday and don’t spend much time applying your beliefs at home, faith will likely not be prominent enough in your kids’ lives to get their deeper attention (particularly if faith isn’t intrinsically relevant for them). If you’re not praying with your kids, finding time to study the Bible with them, having regular faith conversations, etc., there’s no time like today to take a first step.
Which of these three factors might help you most in getting your kids’ spiritual attention?