Posted , updated Oct 01, 2003.
In trying to give their children lots of experiences and opportunities, parents may be depriving their offspring of an important component in their healthy development.
"We're raising a generation of children who have not had the luxury of experiencing quiet," said Angela Wiley, an expert in family relations at the University of Illinois. "Pediatricians tell us that more and more children are experiencing stress-related symptoms. If they're involved in very competitive activities, children may also experience performance anxiety," she said.
Although today's children are busier than ever, Wiley said their parents mean well. Parents who have the resources want to let their children sample a variety of opportunities so they can learn where their strengths are. In dual-earner families, if time is scarce, parents may want to compensate for not spending more time with their children. Other parents may want to fill their child's time with supervised activities so the child doesn't get into trouble. However, children also need some "nothing time," time that is unplanned and open for relaxation, thinking and talking, she said.
Bill Daugherty, author of The Intentional Family, says that parents have unwittingly modeled their families on our consumer culture. They see themselves as a provider of services to their children, giving them taxi service, piano lessons and the chance to be involved in sports camps. All of this activity can crowd out "nothing time." Daugherty says parents should be wary of the service-provider model and spend more time with their children. He says that family time and family rituals are the glue that binds family members together.
Like Daugherty, Wiley advocates establishing and protecting family rituals. She said most families find that a block of family time once a week is a good start. Mealtimes, movie nights, and weekend rituals, such as a Saturday morning pancake breakfast, create predictability and a sense of connection to the family. They also give parents a chance to teach their children what is important to them.
"We know that children are more likely to talk to their parents while they're relaxing, for example, if they're sitting around eating popcorn when a movie's just gone off. Especially as they become teenagers, kids are more likely to talk during these little windows of down time," she said.
"It's also important for parents to try to spend one-on-one time with their children, but that might not be reasonable in larger families. Accessibility to one-on-one time is the important piece," she said. If children know they can have time alone with a parent when they want it, they feel good about that, she said.
Wiley recommends that a child not be involved in more than two activities at a time, and that they be different types of activities. In a family with four children, two activities per child may not be practical. Parents and children should sit down and figure out what works for their family. Learning to extricate themselves from their hectic schedules teaches kids valuable problem-solving skills, she said.
Wiley notes that children may resist cutting down on activities at first. Well-meaning parents may have predisposed their children for a high level of "busyness" from the time they were small. "Now these children don't know what to do with free time. Even when they're stressed, they crave stimulation, say they're bored and beg to go somewhere or do something," she said.
Not to worry, Wiley said. Children faced with curtailing their activities may actually feel a sense of relief. If parents resist the urge to structure every moment of the child's day, children will soon learn to enjoy down time, she said.
"The other thing we're finding is that when children are overscheduled, parents are overscheduled too. They're grumpy and crabby, and their parenting skills suffer. Parents need down time too," she said.
Source: Angela Wiley, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer, p- firstname.lastname@example.org
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