Recently we gathered at Summit to discuss concepts from Wendy Mogel’s book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. Mogel is a well known clinical psychologist and has looked at her own family and life and the lives of the families she sees in her practice.
We asked Bill Satterwhite and Ken Shaw to give us their thoughts on family, balance and a healthy life. This discussion was part of our Inspiring Learning Series, where we join together as parents, educators and community members to ask questions, learn together and have meaningful conversations.
Bill Satterwhite, JD, MD, is a local pediatrician who specializes in treating the whole child. He speaks and writes on raising healthy children. Ken Shaw is Summit’s Athletic Director. He works to integrate sports and physical activity into the school curriculum, including balancing sports within a healthy lifestyle.
A Family on a Mission
Ken began by recommending that families acknowledge who they are by creating a mission statement and then sticking to it. Every family is different and has different ideas of what constitutes balance and happiness.
“Think about it. Hammer it out. We found that when you sit down, spouses and kids, and craft it together it can guide you to make these years more enjoyable and less stressful. Ask important questions: What are our priorities? What is the main purpose of our home? What are practical ways we can serve one another and those outside our family? What would we like for people to say about our family in thirty years and how do we want to build relationships in our family.”
Ken said that practical things flow out of a mission statement. In his family, that means no television in children’s rooms, and no television during the week. That might not work for all families, but it’s important in his.
Bill echoed Ken’s thoughts on a family mission. “Every family has something you stand for whether you know it or not. You are expressing by how you live what you value—whether you write it down or not. Ask yourselves, what is the message of what we are doing?”
He continued, “We asked: What do we stand for? What are we about? My wife and I agreed that we stand for faith, loving each other as relates to our kids, academic achievement and a sense of doing our best. When we asked our children, they added trust and honesty, success in education, community with each other and fun.”
Find more on family mission statements here http://www.ehow.com/how_2043790_write-family-mission-statement.html
How Much is too Much?
Ken said that knowing who you are as a family informs lots of things, including we schedule activities for children. As children, our lives were pretty simple. Now, he said, childhood is full of extremes.
We have childhood obesity growing from 5% to 20%. We have a group of children getting completely stressed out. Ken has seen a ten-year-old with four days of soccer, three days of tennis, one personal training day and various field trips. Instead of asking what can we cut out, parents ask what can we fit in. Consequently, things become less of a joy and more of a burden. It’s important to strike a balance and stick to our mission statements.
What are Sports Really For?
Sports, exercise and physical education are hugely important at every age, and certainly important to achieving balance in mind, body and spirit. That said, sports in the elementary grades should be for fun, Ken said. Wendy Mogel cautions against specializing in a sport too soon; her recommendation is around age 14 or 15. Ken recommends that kids play as many sports as they can, to find out what they like.
Another great source for information recommended by Ken is AskCoachWolf.com, a web site and weekly radio show all about youth sports issues. It mentioned a study that showed if a child is spending more than 11 hours per week in same sport, he or she is more susceptible to injury by working those same muscles and joints.
Bill said that sports is a great example in our culture of the Race to Nowhere. The drop-out rate for sports--75% by Ninth Grade--is backwards. In Ninth Grade, children’s bodies are at the point where they can do what we’re asking them to do. It’s insane to ask children to do at young ages what their bodies are not ready to do. Keep in mind that only 2% of athletes go on to play in college, and that hasn’t changed in 40 years. It’s a myth, Bill notes, that your child will get a big ticket scholarship. The typical college scholarship for sports is about 10% of tuition.
“Youth sports should be done for what it is--fun and exercise,” Bill said. “It’s fine for high school to be about competition. Tell kids to do it for fun and not for your parents. When it stops being fun, we’re out.”
Ken added that if your child is an elite athlete, his or her talent and abilities will become obvious to coaches. He told the story of an Alaskan female soccer player at Duke. She didn’t have great coaches as a kid--her dad was her primary coach who taught himself soccer from videos. She became a top soccer player without all the hoopla. And professional standout Tim Duncan didn’t start playing basketball until age 14!
Stay in Your Lane
Bill said that parents need to have a philosophy for life that guides them in how much to intervene in their children’s lives and how much to hold back.
“Stay in your lane. Things don’t go well on highway if you get out of your lane, or invite someone in,” he said. “When kids are born they’re completely in your lane. But as life goes on, they need to have more and more things that land in their lane. So by time they’re in middle school, homework is mostly theirs. As they get older it’s all in their lane.”
He continued, “Fear is why we get messed up--it’s a number one seller for news and motivator for politics. As parents, we fear for the safety of our kids, but crime is about half of what it was 20 years ago. High school sex is lower. Drug use is lower (except for marijuana). The world is actually safer than when we grew up, so our fear is somewhat irrational. The most helpful thing for children is to be resourceful and responsible. It’s not your job as a parent to take care of their future. When we are filled with fear, we get in their lane and bump them out.”
Second, Bill said that many parents carry the unnecessary burden of believing that it is “all up to them” how their kids turn out--but that it is not true that “kids are clay and we are potters.” As parents, we’re tired a lot because we’re doing a job that’s not ours.
“I think of my kids as seed I’m planting. I’ll water and sun you, but you’ll grow into what you’re going to be. I’m not saying what you’re going to be,” Bill said. “Parents take too much of the credit and too much of the blame for how their kids turn out.”
Bill said that if you can stay in your own lane, you give your kid’s life back to your kid, which lets them be who they need to be. It empowers them to manage their own lives. Their successes are their successes. And their failures are their failures. And that’s okay.
It used to be that parents went to work to be stressed and came home to be relaxed. Now, parents go to work to relax and come home to be stressed. As a family, ask yourselves: Are there things we should be cutting back on? Where is this heading? Where are we going? What is the end result? What are we trying to achieve.
Sometimes parents seem to feel powerless to say no to their kids.
We want our kid to be able to do what others are doing—and not to feel that they’re missing out on something. That’s when it’s time to pull out your mission statement and determine if what you’re doing fits. If you’re having trouble, talk it over. You’ll do fine if you stay in your lane.
This talk resonated with me as a parent and as an educator. We struggle with these issues every day at school and certainly in my home. As a community, we can learn from one another as we engage in the sometimes joyful, sometimes trying but always wonderful and challenging work of raising our children. The point of the Inspiring Learning Series is to bring parents, educators and community members together--to live in dialogue with each other. I invite us all to carry this conversation beyond the Inspiring Learning Series itself and into our daily lives.