Group challenges parents to reclaim kids' time


Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


By Kristen Kauffman / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

It could be called the "not" heard 'round the world.

When a group of parents in tiny Wayzata, Minn., decided to revolt against the culture of busyness and start saying "no!" to the endless extracurricular activities they felt were taxing their families, national media listened.

The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, Newsweek and others have told the tale of how Wayzata parents were mobilized by a 1998 speech by Take Back Your Kids and Intentional Family author William Doherty. The lecture detailed how family time is disappearing because kids are involved in too many extracurricular activities.

That speech led to a 1999 town meeting attended by several hundred local parents, who, with Mr. Doherty's help, formed the grassroots organization Family Life 1st! aimed at making family life a priority for communities.

"We thought it would be a week or two of attention," said Family Life 1st! co-founder Barbara Carlson. "The exciting thing is that so many people have e-mailed us and contacted us from all across the country ... all saying, 'Finally someone's talking about this.'"

Parents are sacrificing family togetherness to run their children from activity to activity, says Mr. Doherty, who is also a professor at the University of Minnesota's Department of Family Social Science. As a result, their children are becoming "consumers of parental services rather than citizens of their families and communities."

The answer is for parents to say no to some of the many activities available and allow for more family meals, church and volunteer activities, he says.

Family Life 1st! is asking coaches, dance instructors, school group leaders and churches to help families spend more time together by limiting the amount of rehearsal, practice and meeting time required of youngsters participating in extracurricular activities.

"Our whole premise is that there aren't any villains – sports aren't bad, music isn't bad – it's the balance," says Ms. Carlson, a mother of four.

"Some of our families have said we're not signing up for anything ... [and as a result] we laugh more, and we talk more and we share more."

The group recently launched its Web site, www.familylife1st.org, which had more than 20,000 hits in its first 20 days. The site offers suggestions to others who would like to start their own Family Life 1st! chapters.