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Finding a balance and setting priorities

November 19, 2007

by Jenni Sebora

The Gold Medal Standards for Youth Sports, recently announced by the nonprofit Joseph and Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics, were developed at a summit February in Los Angeles.

Sports, education and youth experts from across the country representing various national organizations involving youth drafted and approved the standards.

The purpose of the standards is to teach kids about character.

This youth sports program promotes eight standards that sports programs need to adopt to help build character into America’s youth, the website www.girlsandboystown.org noted.

Michael Josephson is the founder of “Character Counts!,” which is part of these standards.

The purpose of this coalition is to help instill ethical values in our children, which he calls “Six Pillars of Character,” trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Now, who doesn’t want those values taught and modeled to their children?

The standards include guidelines for coaches, game officials, and parents to follow, because if we want our kids to learn and live these values, we adults certainly need to model them as well.

In fact, the Gold Medal Standards for Youth Sports was started because of unruly adults, coaches running up scores, too much emphasis on winning, and too little on winning and losing respectfully.

Bravo to this initiative. Youth offerings have increased dramatically over the years and at much earlier ages with an increased emphasis on winning (even if they don’t say it). This increase in activities is monopolizing children’s down time and family time.

I am certainly not negating the importance of structured sports activities (or fine art offerings, which are just as important). I was a high school and college athlete myself and have coached kids at all levels, Little League to high school. I gained a lot and learned about many life lessons from my involvement in extracurricular activities, but balance is the key.

It has become more of a winner-takes-all society and parents feel the pressure to help their kids succeed and to keep up with other parents.

Www.momsteam.com noted that parents seem to be ignoring their own intuition by over-scheduling and overstressing their children. My 10-year old son will remind me that he just wants to stay home. Boy, we as parents forget the importance of down time for kids.

A University of Michigan study showed that only 30 percent of school-aged youth’s days are “free” time, to use as they wish. The other 70 percent is packed with classes, part-time jobs after school, homework, and extracurricular activities, like sports, the website noted.

Structured sports time doubled between 1981 and 1997. And at the same time, unstructured outdoor activities declined 50 percent.

I know when I was a child I had a lot more time to play – just play – outside and at home. That is something I would never change about my childhood, and I often think about that with my own children.

In fact, Williams College professor Susan Engel notes in her book, “Real Kids,” that play is “a central and vital process during childhood. It is not merely that children need time to unwind or have fun (that’s important, too). Rather, without play they will be much less likely to develop just the kinds of thinking we feel are so vital to a productive and intelligent adult life.”

And as I have written about before, some boredom is good, allowing and forcing kids to think and be creative. This “free time” allows time for children and parents to communicate.

We, as parents, need to take back some of this time and balance our children’s activities with family life too.

The web site also noted that today’s parents spend 11 hours less a week – about 90 minutes a day – with their teenagers than they did two decades ago. The average mother spends less than a half hour a day talking with her teens. Only six in 10 15 and 16-year olds regularly eat dinner with their parents.

Family vacations are down by 28 percent. Sports have replaced church on Sunday for many families, and children are being benched for missing practices to be with their families on Christmas Eve or on other holidays.

But just as my 10-year old son tells me and as survey after survey reveals – adolescents say they want to spend more time with their parents; not less; more free time, not less.

One recent poll of children ages nine to 13 revealed that more than four in 10 feel stressed most of the time or always. The major reason: too much to do. More than three-fourths said they longed for more free time.

We also need to make sure that our children get enough sleep. Dr. Judith Owens, past chair of the Pediatric Section for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and co-author of “Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep: The All-In-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens” on the web site www.momsteam.com noted that the greatest challenge for parents is to try and balance homework, sports, music and sleep (family time, free time. . . ).

“Don’t over program your kids so that they give up their much needed sleep,” Dr. Owens said.

The key, again, is finding a balance and establishing appropriate priorities. Next week’s article will continue to focus on this issue.

There are many victories worse than a defeat.

– George Eliot,British author (1819-1880)