Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

15 Minutes A Day

It was a rare weekday opportunity that I was able to walk my eight-year-old to school. As we approached the entrance, he got very excited and pulled me over to a table. “You’ve gotta sign up,” he declared and I immediately wished his mother had taken him to school.

“Do you have 15 minutes a day for your son?” a woman asked,  far too chirpy for pre-1st cup of joe.

I was about to respond that I never have enough time for him (martyr, martyr, martyr) when I read … Did you know that spending just 15 minutes with your child 2-3 times a week can make a world of difference?

And then I made my biggest mistake – I looked down at my son’s expectant face. He is dying to spend 15 minutes a day with me one-on-one, especially because he gets a free ice cream at the end of each month.

Proud father moment - our first serious bike trip at Lake Siskiyou this summer

Okay, enough of the cynicism. I’m very proud of the Berkeley Unified School District. I’m very proud that the good taxpayers of Berkeley sign off every year not to cut funding to education, and most of all, I’m very proud of our incredibly committed teachers.

And hey, if theses teachers can spend several hours a day with my kids, then I can find 15 minutes, no?  What is interesting about this is that the child decides how that time is spent and they make the rules.

What does this do? Studies show that spending regular quality time with your child will give them: higher self-esteem, desire to cooperate, compassion for others, and a better focus for learning.

It might seem a little strange that we need to make a campaign out of something so basic. After all, as a parent, you would think that most of us actually wanted the little buggers in the first place. But the reality in such an intense 21st century lifestyle is that we fail to do this. For my part, I usually offer to spend time with my youngest by offering a specific activity – soccer in the car park, reading on my bed etc. Even when it comes to TV, I realize that there is a menu attached with a couple of his programs that I don’t go crazy watching.

So maybe we can create a better world by teaching the next generation the values that our generation failed to understand. And if 15 minutes a day is what will do it, I pledge.

A day earlier this year in the snow.

Finally, a shout out to the San Francisco Foundation and the Witkin Foundation for sponsoring this initiative.

“15 minutes, because kids spell “love” … T-I-M-E.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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3 thoughts on “15 Minutes A Day

  1. So Berkeley Unified is getting parents to sign up to spend 15 minutes a day with their kids, and if a kid can talk at least one of them to do this, that kid gets ice cream at school at the end of the month? So the time with the parent isn’t the actual reward–the ice cream is? Okay, my first reaction is: if the parent is the one making the pledge, shouldn’t the parent be the one to get the ice cream?
    Then after my more selfish impulse passes, my second thought is: so the kids of single parents who work evenings or are drug addicts or are for some reason otherwise unavailable—those kids don’t get ice cream? So (1) these kids are outed to their peers as essentially unworthy of their parents’ time, and (2)to add injury to insult, they don’t get the ice cream that their more advantaged peers do?
    I’m sure there were genuinely good intentions behind this program, but I’m wondering if anyone thought it through…

  2. Point taken, Tanya. And the truth is, I hope my kids don’t lack for parent-child time, and though they would claim they lack for ice cream that is my fault and it isn’t for financial reasons.

    Two positive points that I’ve seen from this 1st month: First. he chooses the activity, not me. Secondly, he is proud that he initiates this.

    Getting back to your point, however, I do wonder whether working long hours or even battling an addiction abdicates a parent’s responsibility to seek quality time with their children? Often we (the adults) need the framework to provide the discipline, even if the good intention is already there.

    Finally, the BUSD is not paying for this. It is funded by the San Francisco Foundation and the Witkin Foundation.

    Perhaps the funders weren’t thinking about me when they signed up for this initiative, but if they succeed in bonding parents and children and helping to empower these children, I have to think it is a good idea.

    Anyway, I appreciate your comment. Thank you,

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