Are we unconsciously setting up our families for disaster? Take a moment and think about family life. Think about the things you value. Think about your children and how you support their efforts to be successful in school athletics and in social environments.
As a family, how would you assess your family's communication patterns? Do you and your children communicate effectively and consistently? How often do you and your children have a sit-down, just to talk about things in general? Is your family life so busy that there is no time for each other on a day-to-day basis? All in the name of good activity, everyone is running in five million directions. Sometimes it takes a family crisis or disaster to cause a family to take pause and really look honestly at the family's dynamics.
The family has always been the center of living. Most of us have been brought up to value family life and to work hard to protect and strengthen it. However, we live in a culture that unconsciously undermines all that is important in family life.
A family can't grow and develop if the members of that family don't spend time together and make an effort at consistent, productive communication. It is easy to make excuses for why we cannot spend quality time with one another. Some of our excuses are very noble, but nonetheless, they are still excuses.
Communication does not just happen. People have to work at it. It is a skill that needs to be nurtured and developed. The best way to nurture this skill is to practice it. In order to practice it, people have to make time for each other.
Take a moment and think about your family system. It doesn't matter if you are an intact family, a stepfamily or a single mom or dad raising a family, family is best defined not by the structure, but rather by the attitude of the people in the family and the relationships they share with each other.
On the surface, some intact families seem to have a perfect life. However, if the truth be told, at times they are more dysfunctional than some single parent families that are struggling to survive.
The reason some of those intact families are so dysfunctional is because they spend no time strengthening or caring for their relationships. Their priorities are things and activities, not people and connectedness.
If a family, no matter what its' system, is going to be life-giving and nurturing, then building and strengthening relationships must be their first priority. Family life must be shaped around those concerns.
The reason many families feel under siege is because we have surrendered the control of our family to other entities within our society. Too many families are shaping family life around school activities, athletics and our children's social activities.
The practice of religion is also being held hostage by other social entities in our society. Many faith traditions are frustrated with Little League soccer, baseball and football because Sunday was traditionally a time for worship and religious formation. Many religious traditions are complaining that children have to choose between a sport and the practice of their faith - a choice many of us feel is unfair.
No elementary or junior high school student should be forced to choose between religious worship and playing a sport. Unfortunately, this has become a growing dilemma because we, as parents, have not taken a proactive position on this concern.
Twenty years ago, this was not even an issue for discussion. Whether people were religious or not religious, Sunday morning was never factored into Little League sports games.
Most people reading this column would affirm that athletics should be a positive part of a young person's development. As a surrogate parent and veteran teacher, in principle, I would affirm that statement. However, I feel that athletics, once a very positive component in a young person's development, are now potentially dangerous and in some venues are becoming harmful.
Traditionally, playing a sport developed character, responsibility and teamwork. Young athletes became disciplined and focused. They learned the value of commitment, of working hard and of playing fair. Most coaches reminded their young athletes that winning wasn't everything. They reminded them that how they played the game and who they were as people was most important.
Unfortunately, in a growing number of areas, adolescent athletics is out of control. A growing number of coaches are approaching the sport like it is the NFL or the NBA. I hear a growing number of stories of high school athletes being encouraged to hire personal trainers to move them to a more advanced level of readiness for competition. We hear countless disturbing stories of junior high and high school athletes who are enhancing their physical development by using steroids.
Recently, there was a documentary on television about high school football players who were being encouraged to weigh more than three hundred pounds as linemen, so they could prepare for their college football careers.
If any of this is remotely correct, it is deeply disturbing. Too many high school sports programs have become excessively competitive. In the final analysis, is this really helping our young men and women to grow and become all that they can be? Is treating high school athletics like the pros, good for family life - good for a teenage athlete?
In the same vein, should our high school juniors and seniors be taking so many advanced placement and college credit courses? Some seventeen year olds are going away to school with enough credit to be sophomores in college. But, are they emotionally and socially ready to cope as second year college students or are we setting them up for disaster?
As parents and adults, we constantly complain that our children do not communicate with us. With the new technology of e-mail and instant messaging, we know that our children communicate. Look at the depth and breathe of what our kids speak about on line. Many of our children have no problem sharing some of the most personal and intimate details of their young lives. Those same teenagers oftentimes cannot look us in the face and share even a fraction of what they've shared with their internet friends. They can talk to machines, but cannot talk to their family!
As parents, we need to reclaim our families. We need to be in charge, to set limits and boundaries and to hold our children accountable. Schools, athletics and extracurricular activities should not set the stage for our family lives. At best, they should support our family agenda and value system.
In our fast-paced world, it is important to remember that our children should be children and should enjoy and savor each and every phase of development. Growing up should be fun and family life should be an intimate part of that growing up experience.
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