By Scott Keith
Does anyone else notice that our family lives are just ridiculous? Our children have commitments that extend late into the night into Saturday, and even Sunday. It seems like we need to readjust what we ask our children to do and why we ask them to do it. In 2006 a Roper Poll found that on average, children between ages 5 and 18 spent about 5 hours per week in organized activities—about the same amount of time they spent in out-of-school educational activities. This same poll indicated that these children seldom feel as though it was parental pressure nudging them forward to participate. Now this doesn’t seem too bad, but I’d like to ask… what aren’t they spending time doing? In other words, how much time per week is being spent as a family, with parents, not practicing the flute or soccer, but spent just learning to be part of a family? As a case and point, this same poll found that these same children spent less time performing household chores and hanging out with their family and more time playing video games and watching television. Keep in mind, that for a family with three children this will mean that 15 hours per week of lost “family time” will be spent chasing children around from event to event. This doesn’t even count the commute time.
Now, I do not intend to portray participation in sports or music lessons as evil. Rather, I want to know, what do we hope to accomplish culturally by asking most of our children to spend a greater amount of time learning to be the next great baseball player or flautist rather than learning how to function in a family? Athletics will keep our children fit and healthy. That is a good thing. Musical training can help with academics, memorization, and mathematical ability. These too are good things. Learning to be part of a family means, doing chores, socializing with one another, cooking, playing games, supporting those you love, caring for common possessions and values. These are great things. In fact, these are the things that hold society together, and have held society together since the beginning of recorded history. Yet we ask our children to spend less than five hours a week in this arena and more than five hours a week learning to throw a ball through a hoop. Really!
Further, this survey can claim that parents do not put pressure on their children to be in these activities, but I think that is a load of crap. I think it was the parents who were surveyed that sugar coated the reality. I can’t be the only one that time and again has to listen to some idiotic parent droning on about how their child needs to succeed in swimming, volleyball, or softball so that they can get the all important scholarship for their Bachelor’s degree in order to be all they can be in life. (Anecdotal example.. I know.) Newsflash, less than 2 percent of undergraduate students are awarded athletic scholarships. On the other hand, around 40 percent of students receive some sort of merit, or academic based scholarship aid. So if you want your child to do well in college and receive some help paying for it, keep them home and help them with their homework rather than insisting they play a sport.
Again, I only mean to ask why we do this? If it is to develop children into well rounded people who have academic, athletic, and cultural talents and skills, I say, all the better. If it so that we can relive our glory years through them and get their college paid for, I say that is a load of crap. Keep it simple. It should be more important that we teach our children how to mop the floor and do the dishes than to kick a ball. It should be more important to teach our children to love and cherish their family than to play piano. It should be more important to teach our children that God gave us our family and called us to help and support one another in every bodily need than to swing a bat or racket thing. If all of these principles are at the front of the priority list, then sign the children up for swimming and soccer and the like. If family and time together as a family in the midst of all of the blood, sweat and tears of being a family is an after thought, then keep them home. Rather, teach them to learn about what life together means. Teach them about their vocation as a son or daughter in a family. Teach them about your vocation, and eventually theirs, of being husband and wife, mother and father, before you teach them sport or music, or whatever else. And for God’s sake, eat freaking dinner together every once in a while and talk to each other! If you did that five times a week, you’d be even.