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How to Balance Youth Sports with Family Life

Brooke deLench

Raising sports active kids is difficult, perhaps never more so than today. Parents feel pressure to help their kids succeed and to keep up with other parents in an increasingly winner-take-all society. Too often, parents feel that if they don't do everything for their child, they are bad parents. Some parents seem to take pride in how busy and stressed are their lives and those of their kids, as if it is a measure of how successful they are and how successful they must be as parents.

Research shows that parents intuitively know how to balance their child's development. Yet more and more parents seem to be ignoring their own intuition by over-scheduling and over-stressing their child.

A University of Michigan study showed that only 30 percent of the days of school-age youngsters 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. Structured sports time doubled between 1981 and 1997. At the same time, unstructured outdoor activities declined 50 percent.

Today's parents spend eleven 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 per day talking with her teens. Only six in ten fifteen- and sixteen-year olds regularly eat dinner with their parents. Family vacations are down by 28 percent. Sports have replaced church on Sunday for many families. Children are being benched for missing practice to be with their families on Christmas Eve.

Yet in survey after survey adolescents lament the lack of parental attention and say they want to spend more time with their parents, not less; more free time, not less. One recent poll of children between ages 9 and 13 found that more than four in 10 feel stressed most of the time or always. The main reason: they had too much to do. More than three fourths said they longed for more free time.