Corrections or additions?
This article by David McDonough was prepared for the February 7,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Taking Back Your Kids
Good parents today simply cannot do enough for their
children. For kids not long out of diapers there is soccer on
traveling soccer on Sundays, basketball on Mondays, T-ball on
science clubs, drama enrichment programs, and chess (but not
Good parents don’t let their kids settle for a cake and ice cream
at home birthday. Instead it’s a professional magician, or a
wagon at a western theme party, or a zoologist making a presentation
at the State Museum.
"Today bragging rights is not how big your house is, or how much
your car is worth, it’s how busy your family is," says William
J. Doherty, author of "Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting
in Turbulent Times." "We have parenting as product
and parenting as a competitive sport. Just as you want to promote
your career, you want to promote your child, and make him a success.
Doherty, a marriage and family therapist for over 20 years, is a
and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the
of Minnesota. On Thursday, February 8, he speaks at Chapin School
on "Taking Back Our Kids From Today’s Hyperactive Consumerist
Lifestyle" as part of the Common Ground program of the Parent
Association of Princeton Area Independent Schools.
Just where does Doherty believe all this anxiety stems from?
he says, "It’s pretty widespread. We’ve learned a lot in the last
30 years about children’s needs and children’s development. Our
has become more competitive and parenting has now become caught up
Doherty, the son of a breadman and a housewife, grew up in
Philadelphia with two brothers and two sisters. "Parents of my
parents’ generation had lower expectations," he says. During the
summer and on weekends, his time was completely unstructured. After
school, he and his siblings got home from school at 4 p.m. and played
around the house.
It isn’t that parents didn’t overspend on their children
when he was growing up. Conspicuous consumption goes back to the
1960s, or even the ’50s. But, Doherty argues, it’s consumption of
available time and activities, not objects, that overwhelms us now.
"The word is out that it’s bad to buy your kids everything, and
spoil them," says Doherty. "Now the emphasis has shifted to
providing them with opportunities — more than one activity, more
than one sport. A mother said to me recently, explaining why her child
was in several sports and taking more than one musical instrument, `It
might be that he’s really good at something. Suppose he’s gifted in
some field and I’ve said no?’"
Just who is putting on the pressure — kids asking to do more,
or parents pushing — is up for speculation. "I think it’s
both," says Doherty, "it depends on the family. Kids want
to fit in, do what their peers do. In the case of very young children,
parents sign them up. Your four-year-old is not begging to take
gymnastics. And some parents don’t know how to say No, even though
be saying to themselves, `This is getting to be too much.’ But they
can’t bring themselves to say no to a good opportunity for their
If the kid came home and said, `Can I have money for drugs?’ of
they’d say no. But traveling soccer, moving up in Scouts, these are
good things. And parents don’t know that they can say no."
If this sounds like indifferent parenting, Doherty cautions, don’t
be too quick to point the finger. "I try to avoid blaming
he says. "I think it’s a cultural thing. Each generation tries
to do its best according to an existing cultural norm."
"We operate by perception," says Doherty. "Our perception
is that our neighborhoods are dangerous and kids need activities with
adult supervision. And there is reality to that, although parents
feel that way in communities where there hasn’t been a violent crime
in decades. They see it on television and think it’s the case. Another
part of it is that in the last 10 or 15 years, child development
experts have been talking about the value of involvement in
activities. And there is good evidence for that. But that advice never
came with the caution: know when to stop."
"Many parents feel like something is seriously out of whack, but
nobody has named it," he says. "Kids are aware, perhaps not
consciously, but subconsciously, that something’s out of whack. They
feel like they’re exhausted, and nobody’s getting them off the
One teacher I know, with 30 years experience in education, refers
to this as an abused generation. We give them too much homework and
pile too many activities on top of it."
Doherty is also pleased at the level of response shown by coaches
and other directors of outside activities. "Professionals and
coaches have been doing some soul searching," he says. "We’ve
established a group, the Family Life First organization. We just gave
our first seal of approval to a youth football program in Wayzata,
Minnesota. They looked at their program and their family needs and
made a voluntary decision to cut their practice time in half. Now
we have other community programs coming to us and saying they’d like
to get the family seal of approval."
Ultimately, Doherty emphasizes, it’s up to each family and community
to decide what’s best. "In some communities where there has been
widespread discussion of this issue, some basketball leagues have
set four or five levels of intensity. Instead of how skilled you are,
it’s how involved you want to be. Parents are no longer whispering
when they decide not to have their kid on the traveling team. Now
they’re saying it out loud."
— David McDonough
Chapin School, 609-924-2449. Common Ground is a program of the Parent
Association of Princeton Area Independent Schools. Free. Thursday,
February 8, 7:30 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.