Eye contact can help build connections by conveying interest, attention, and engagement during conversations. It helps to establish trust, makes the other person feel seen and heard, and encourages them to open up. Additionally, maintaining eye contact can help convey confidence and sincerity.
Generation Z, the current generation enjoying their teen years, has a reported attention span of 8 seconds. We spend 8+ hours a day online, and more than half of us self-report that we are using more than one device at a time. So when you are talking to your teen and they are also typing rapidly on their phone, that is normal. Unfortunately, “normal” does not make for creating great connections. To help these teens use their in-person conversation time efficiently, we need to teach them to look up and make eye contact.
Eye contact helps infants with facial recognition, convey emotion and provide information. Infants start reacting to eye contact as early as four months. Four months! Something they knew at four months isn’t something they have to be taught; instead, here are some steps to help retrain your teen to do what’s natural.
Make Eye Contact with Your Child
ie Practice what you preach
Most importantly, your children will learn by your example. Make sure you put the phone down when your child speaks to you, especially when you say hello and hug goodbye. If your child brings up something while you are cooking or working in the shop. Stop, look them in the eye, and ask for a moment. “Hey, hun, give me two minutes, this sounds important, and I want to give you my full attention.” Using verbal acknowledgment of your intent will bring additional attention to your efforts. Stop the car if it comes up on the road, and you have 10 minutes. Let them know they can have your full attention and what it feels like to have it.
Talk about Eye Contact
If you start this when your child is four, feel free to skip this step. But if you are staring into the face of a 17-year-old student as they jump in their car, you will probably have to talk about it. Teens get resentful when their parents correct them, and it is a difficult age to listen to mom and dad. Dr. Lisa Damour wrote a fantastic article on this. In this case, not making eye contact hurts relationships. It might even be hurting your relationship. You can talk to your teen about that. It is not our intent to harm our parents. We love our parents. By not making eye contact, your teen might make you feel disconnected or hurt. Use the “I feel” statements versus “you never” and ask them how to work on this together.
My teenage sister came downstairs after a sleepover several years ago and talked about the girl that had stayed. This was a good friend. “She was on phone the whole time.” My mom did not roll her eyes but instead used this as an opportunity to reinforce the message that we all need to put our phones down.
Put the phone down
The phone is a distraction, even for this generation. Etiquette with the phone is changing, but one area the generations can agree on is the phone should never be present at a dining table. Friends might not care, but let your children know you do. It is impossible to make eye contact during a family meal if everyone is looking at their phone.
Start your new “out the phone down” habits at dinner. My mom started when I was four years old. She gave my sister and me permission to charge either dad or her $1.00 if we caught them on the phone while we were having a family meal. If we saw them, they had to pay everyone at the table $1.00. Any family meal. I thought this was awesome. I made at least 1.00 a week and figured I had the best parents in the world. This rule came back to bite me when I got my phone. Excited about a game I was playing as I sat down at the table. Hering the chime that tells me a friend has just texted, and I am waiting to see if my friend got asked to the dance. My mom looks up, points at her palm, and taps three times. Ugh, there have been dinners I have ended up paying more than $12 at a single dinner because I kept forgetting. The etiquette if you want to use your phone while talking to someone in person is to ask for permission.
- “Did you hear Steven Spielberg has a new movie out?”
- “Great, should we go see it?
- “Yes, do you mind if I pull out my phone to check showtimes?”
It’s easy to do and easy to forget, so practice with your teens. Some families ban the phone at the dinner table. I don’t recommend this because your child will have their phone with them in other circumstances. I think practicing correctly is better than creating an unrealistic use case.
Remove the PhoneS
During sleepovers, play dates trips to the museums when there are multiple kids in the car, or at the house, take away the phones.
Your teen can’t do that, but this is your house with your rules. It won’t make you the most popular parent, but it will give the kids in the room a way to remove their attention from that digital device and maybe spend that time connecting.
Practice makes Perfect Eye Contact.
Be consistent with your child, both in your own behavior and in correcting theirs. It is said that a new habit takes six weeks to enforce. That’s a long time. But if you aren’t consistent and six weeks go by with them looking at their phone, that’s building a habit too.
Acknowledge the improvement. Most of these steps are done without expressly explaining what you are working on with your child. But if you see your child pay attention when Grandma is talking, Ignore their phone when their cousins are all looking at their screens, or pay attention to you when you are talking, acknowledge the behavior and how it made you or grandma feel.
Pe patient and gradually increase duration.
From the head in electronics while mumbling, “What’s for dinner” to 2 hours of intense conversation without any devices is a slow process. Be patient: Improving eye contact takes time, so be patient and encourage your teen to keep practicing.
Start as early as you can, and go slowly. Start with a card game – yes, I am selling card games – and then sit and work towards 5 minutes of after-conversation—ten minutes next week. Try for 15 minutes. Build slowly and enjoy these conversations with your teens.
Eye Contact is the 5th skill set in our Connect with C A B L E skills. If you’d like to learn more about the five skills, click here:
- C– lead with CURIOSITY
- A – AGREEABLE
- B – BODY language
- L – active LISTENING
- E – EYE contact