How to Get Your Kid’s Attention When They Aren’t Listening

Last week I gave you two homework assignments.  If you didn’t see them, you can read about them here.  How did you do?  If you were able to complete them, especially the one about remaining silent when your kids weren’t listening, pat yourself on the back — well done!

I talk to moms all the time about their concern that their kids are addicted to video games or YouTube or their phones.  If you didn’t read it, I wrote about the potential of this addictive like behavior  and the frustration of trying to get our kids to listen to us when they are engrossed in something.  We ask them to do something (like come to the dinner table), they might grunt (if we are lucky), and continue without thought as to what we are asking.  It is almost as if they are oblivious to our voice.  We then get irritated and yell or potentially roll over and ignore the whole scene.  I’ve had moms tell me that they’ve unplugged the device they’ve been so upset and I remember one Facebook video where a dad actually threw a gaming system out the window because he was so mad at this kids.  None of these responses is healthy.

So what is a mom to do?

Before we go there, something you might not realize is that if your kids are engrossed in something–say video games, an intense movie, lively and intense music, or some other activity they are really enjoying, like texting with a friend–then they are revving up their dopamine levels.  Sometimes as much as of doubling them.  Dopamine works like a feel good hormone.  If they are engaging in these activities, then most likely they won’t hear you. 

The other thing is that they don’t want to hear you.  Who wants to go from happy, exciting things to listening to their mom?  That would be boring.

So how do we break out of the cycle of our kid being engrossed in an activity, not listening to our request, and then us getting upset and grounding them?

First, let me assure you that while  it is doubtful that your kid is an addict if he’s involved in other things, as a parent it sure feels like it sometimes.  

Second, if we can take a moment and look at addictive patterns, it might help us as parents figure out a way to break the cycle with our kids.


There is one thing I’ve learned about addictive behaviors that I’m told holds true 100 percent of the time:  You can’t help an addict unless they want help and recognize their need for help.

So, as mom, it becomes our job to help our kids recognize their need for help.  Here are some suggesting on how to do that.

  1. Make them aware of the problem.  Since most kids’ brains don’t fully develop until they are 25-27, your kid may not even recognize that they have a problem.  If they aren’t making the connection between their behavior and your response, you might need to have a conversation over ice cream or a hot mocha. Most teens don’t want privileges taken away .  The only thing they see is mom being mean.  It’s your job to help them make the connection.
  2. Ask questions.  Ask about their dreams for the future and let them know you want them to have fun and friends.  You might even ask them how they see video games, or whatever they spend their time on, helping them reach their goals.  Listen, listen, listen.
  3. Admit your own addictive behaviors (within reason of course).  Was there a time you became so engrossed in other things that the important things didn’t seem so important?  Empathize and make a connection between your current or past behavior and your teens’.  Let them know what is happening is normal.
  4. Talk about life balance.  Trust me when I say this is a real issue for college students!  Now is the time to teach these skills.  Draw a pie chart and have them draw what they think each piece of the pie equates to in terms of time in how they should spend their day.  Then have them keep track of the time in each category in how they do spend their day.  Most kids have no idea how much time gets consumed by their habits.
  5. Get their input on how to solve the problem.   Maybe a small reward if they can become more aware of your requests?  Perhaps a timer to put the device away at a specific time?  Or maybe a friendly competition to help both of you change behaviors.  Know that it will most likely need to be something they “want” to do over the activity you are frustrated about.  Again, they have to want to change.  

Anger and resentment or being a doormat for your kids doesn’t teach your kids the skills they need to be successful as adults.  Respecting them in a way that builds relationship — I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine — helps them see the need to move forward in maturity and obedience.

I think the words that Hannah Whitall Smith writes in her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life about how God parents us is so applicable as we parent our teens.  She writes, “He writes his laws on our hearts and on our minds, and we love them, and are drawn, by our affections and judgment, not driven, to our obedience.”

Dare you to woo your tweens and teens to obedience by writing on their hearts and minds through respectful communication.  If you do, maybe they’ll want to hear and respond in kind to you.

“Let go…and let God”,

What to become a MASTER at handling conflict? Titus 2 Leadership Boot Camp

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