Kids need time to 'veg out' with family

April 16, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

A few weeks ago, the northern New Jersey village of Ridgewood celebrated "Ridgewood Family night - Ready, Set, Relax" - a night with no homework, no sporting events - nothing anybody had to do, nowhere anybody had to be, according to the Associated Press.

Could families everywhere use a night off? Is down time important for kids and their parents?

Kids need to "just veg out," says Alvin A. Rosenfeld, M.D., co-author, with Nicole Wise of "The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap." Children need time for boredom, he says. Time to invent, to play cowboys and Indians, to form an "I Hate Boys Club."

"That's their creative time," says Rosenfeld, a psychiatrist with offices in Connecticut and New York City.

Parents also are entitled to a life, he adds.

The topic of parent-child quality time always comes up at parenting workshops offered by the Washington County Council of PTAs, says Jenny Belliotti, who is completing her fourth and final year as president of the organization.


"I think it's certainly an issue," she adds.

Families are so busy, parents have invented ways to keep track of activities.

Bev Abeles of Hagerstown used to try to remember everything - all of her family's activities.

After she forgot about the first birthday party her daughter had been invited to, she worked out a system of gathering information from the kids' school, scout and baseball calendars, the church calendar and her husband's calendar in one desk-type calendar. Then she transfers a week's worth to a dry-erase board.

The Abeles family's days are full: Will, 13, and Charlie, 10, are on their school buses before 8 a.m., and 3-year-old Madyn goes to preschool three mornings a week. At 15 months, Kevin goes with the flow.

After school, things pick up. Will and Charlie both play baseball. Will is on two teams. There are piano lessons and scouts. Will is involved in student government and drama, Charlie is taking Spanish on Tuesdays after school.

"We can tell when they're burned out," Bev Abeles says. And the family knows how to cope with burnout. Be at home.

The family lives on 30 acres and the kids have a lot of room and time to go out and play - just play. Will loves sports.

"That's his down time," Abeles says. She calls Charlie a "nature kid," who enjoys running around, making up games, looking for arrowheads, exploring the stream.

The Nicewarner kids - Caitlin, 13, and Jordan, 8, also are busy. So are their parents, Tressa and Scott. On a recent weekday, after-school time was filled with homework, Jordan's baseball scrimmage, Caitlin's club volleyball practice and scrimmage, and Mom and Dad checking with each other by cell phone from the kids' different locations.

The family was back home just after 7 p.m. Parents walked the dog, Tressa caught up on getting things done around the house, Jordan ran the vacuum cleaner, and Caitlin helped Scott work on laying a hardwood floor.

Tressa Nicewarner, who works as a teacher's aide at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, believes that kids need to be involved. She sees kids who have too much time on their hands and get in trouble.

Caitlin has goals, which include going to college. She knows she needs to keep good grades to be involved in sports. Activities are important, Tressa Nicewarner says.

In "A Talk To Parents" program he's presented in schools, Rosenfeld discusses the horrors of sleep-deprived, over-scheduled kids who "busily rush from activity, to endless homework, to tutors who help them excel at high school subjects, to volunteering at charities to shape their resumes so they fit what elite colleges supposedly are looking for."

Goals are good, Rosenfeld says. But there has to be a balance.

Teresa Lum, a certified registered nurse practitioner with Drs. Weiss, Becker and Shuster, asks patients - especially teenagers - about their activity schedules. "It's OK to say no to the kids," says Lum, the mother of three children, ages 16 months, 5 and 8 years old. She thinks two activities are enough.

During "well visits," Lum also asks children how many times a week they have dinner with their families. That's when families communicate, she says.

Although they might want you to be on the other side of the mall, kids do want to be with their parents, Lum says.

"To stimulate warm relationships with our children - the ones they and we both need - we need to spend time with our children with no goal in mind beyond the pleasure of spending time together," Rosenfeld says.

The Nicewarner family has dinner together most nights. "We are a family of four that pretty much does everything together," says Tressa Nicewarner.

"We do our fair share of running around," she says. But the kids are happy, the parents are happy. "We just make it work."

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