I first came across the words “parent-child connectedness” when I was researching strategies to help teen girls make wise choices about their bodies. It turns out that across the board—more than any other factor—parent-child connectedness was the strongest risk reducer for teen sexual activity. That had my ear. I wanted to know more.
Parent/child connectedness is defined as being closely bonded by common traditions and frequently occurring activities. I think a good definition of it would be “intentional togetherness.” It’s eating dinner five or more times a week as a family, as opposed to eating on the run or in front of the television every night. It’s heading out to the forest to chop down a tree once a year because it’s your family’s Christmas tradition. It’s changing your plans for cleaning the house, and instead running to Walmart to buy the ingredients for a science project recipe that your 5th grader brought home and can’t wait to make. It’s playing with, cooking with, camping with and studying with your child. Quality time? A myth! Our kids need quantity that comes with great quality here and there.
Why does Connecting Matter?
Your daughters’ brain development relies on connecting. This started when she was just a baby. Parent-infant connection—intentional togetherness—plays a key role in shaping the right side of an infant’s brain during the first year of life. Research proves that a baby’s brain develops better if he or she is experiencing strong parent connection in the first 52 weeks of life.
Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr. of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health has conducted research proving that a second critical phase of brain development occurs just before puberty—during your daughter’s tweens (for boys, perhaps just a little older). McIlhaney says that the part of the brain that’s yet to be developed is the pre-frontal cortex of the brain’s frontal lobes¹. It’s located at the front of the head, behind the forehead. This area is responsible—among other things—for appropriating and controlling moral behavior or values! Parent-child connection tends to enable this part of the brain to grow more readily.
There is an actual physical component involved. Your investment of time is helping your child procure the actual brain space to store moral values. And that gives you the ground to plant the values.
Connectedness reduces the risk of dropping out of school, crime, substance abuse and sexual activity. It increases academic performance, social contribution and the chances of having healthy emotions and relationships.
Your daughter is more likely to experience positive pro-social behavior if she experiences parent/child connectedness. This might include academic, social and/or spiritual success. It can also manifest as a sense of caring and concern in her family and friendships. In general, she’ll be more socially responsible if she experiences…well, a little bit of family laser tag and a whole lot of dinners together!
What the Bible Says About Connectedness
Proverbs 22:6 reads:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
The Hebrew word for “way” puts connectedness in a whole new light. You’ll never parent the same again once you see this. At first glance, it is easy to see that God is affirming “the way” that is right for us to follow, in general. And that would be correct, because the word “train” was the Hebrew word “hanak” and would be best translated “dedicate.” This would indicate that our children are to be dedicated to God and His ways, but there is a deeper treasure hidden in this verse for us.
The Hebrew word for way used in this verse was “derek.” Literally, it means “my way” or “bent.” It was a Hebrew marksman’s term. Marksmen of that day and age did not receive a standard-issue bow and arrow with wires and buttons to adjust the bow to the specific environment. Rather, each marksman went out and found his own piece of wood, and crafted it carefully into a bow. Since each bow was made of different kinds of wood with varying strengths and levels of moisture, it was likely that it took hours and days to actually learn the unique “bent” or tendency of the wood so that a marksman could be accurate with it. The word “derek” refers to the process of learning the wood.
What I think God is saying to you and to me is this: “I have a specific way that I’d like you to dedicate your child to follow, but to be successful you have to know the unique strengths and qualities of your child. And by the way, that’ll take some time. So, plan on investing it.”
The number one thing your daughter needs from you? The gift of mother-daughter connection.
Dannah Gresh is the founder of True Girl. She encourages busy moms with practical, biblical advice on her Mom Moments podcast, and is the co-host of the Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Revive Our Hearts podcast. Dannah is the best-selling author of over twenty books including And The Bride Wore White, Lies Young Women Believe (co-authored with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth), and Lies Girls Believe.
¹Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD and Freda McKissic Bush, MD “Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children” (Northfield Publishing, Chicago: 2008), 53.