- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2000

PLYMOUTH, Minn. Ann and Greg Baufield reluctantly pulled their 11-year-old daughter out of dance class.

"I liked it, I had friends there and Lauren was good at it," said Ann Baufield.

But dance class meant expensive lessons four days a week, and the family was already taking Lauren to and from soccer games, choir practices and religion classes. And the Baufields' other youngsters, ages 14 and 17, had their own extracurricular activities: football, choir, musical rehearsals, voice lessons, religion classes and jobs.

"There was a point in June when my own family went 10 days and we only had one meal together," Greg Baufield said.

Some families like the Baufields are taking a modest stand against what they see as the overscheduling of America's youngsters.

About a year ago, the Baufields and more than a dozen other parents and youth activity organizers in two well-to-do Minneapolis suburbs formed an organization called Family Life 1st.

Among other things, the organization urges parents to think more carefully about enrolling their youngsters in one activity after another. It is also offering its seal of approval to activity groups that sign a pledge to cut youngsters some slack for family events and refuse to schedule practices on holidays.

"We are not trying to make sports look bad or try and say that extracurricular activities are not important," said Carol Bergenstal, a Family Life 1st member. "We think they are hugely important. We are trying to help parents strike a balance."

She added: "We are saying, 'What are you going to lose when you have your kids so programmed you never spend time as a family?' "

These days, the competition in the suburbs can be more about how busy you are than about how much money you have.

Gina Coburn of Plymouth, a mother of three daughters and a member of Family Life 1st, said she hears parents describe each other in terms of how much time they spend watching their children play soccer.

"Sometimes you hear, 'They are really good parents, they went to all the games,' " she said.

The inspiration for Family Life 1st came from a lecture by William Doherty, a University of Minnesota sociologist who stresses the importance of families spending time together and says parents are running themselves ragged so their children can compete in the modern economy.

"A lot of it is anxiety-driven," he said. " 'Other people are developing their children, why aren't you developing yours?' "

He said the phenomenon "has really contributed to the problem of the lack of family time. There is no one cooking dinner because they are out at the game."

Not only are parents encouraging their children to sign up for too many activities, but the activities are demanding more of the youngsters' time, he said. Soccer was once a three-month season with one practice a week, he said.

"Now, of course, we have traveling teams, we have practices two or three times a week, plus games, plus tournaments. It has gotten crazy," Mr. Doherty said.

Mrs. Bergenstal said she thought youth coaches would object to Family Life 1st but found many have endorsed the idea. "We are hearing from them because they're saying, 'We're parents, too,' " she said.

David Gaither, director of a 41-team football league for fourth-through eighth-graders in the Wayzata/Plymouth area, said his league has incorporated some of Family Life 1st's ideas, cutting its practice time from 10 hours a week to five and letting players off without penalty for family activities over the objections of some parents.

"It's a balancing act because you get some parents who say that some practice is good, so more practice must be better," he said.

Ian Barker, director of coaching for the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association, said it is "crazy" for children under 10 to have soccer practice five times a week and play three games as happens in his organization.

"I think American parents have to take a serious look at the amount of organized activities they are putting their children in," he said.

The result of so much organized activity, he said, is children who cannot think for themselves and burn out by their early teens.

"Part of my responsibility is to create players who are good enough to win the World Cup. If they drop out when they are 13, they are no good to me," he said.

Other families struggle with their children's frantic schedules. In Peachtree City, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, Deborah Leonard says she prefers the pressure of keeping such a full schedule to the risk of inactivity.

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