"Over-scheduling" and "hyper-parenting" are behaviors born of anxiety about whether we are being "good" parents; these notions have insinuated themselves into every aspect of our thinking about child-rearing. They assert that only the right childhood activities combined with unflagging parental devotion will create successful children. We have come to believe that parents should sacrifice everything to that effort.
National media have devoted, and continue to devote, extensive attention to this fanatical mentality that leaves students exhausted and sleep-deprived as they busily rush from one activity to the next . from sports' practices, to band, to homework, to tutors who help them excel, to high schoolers volunteering at charities to shape their resumes so they fit what elite colleges supposedly are looking for. Children's sports have become professionalized. Schools in some states feel that schoolwork is so crucial that middle and high school students should give up recess. Some spouses give up all their time together, including Saturday nights, to get their children to practices, games, and tournaments. The energy and scheduling that support this life style have deprived families of the time its members need to just get to know one another and to derive the well-documented emotional benefits that a warm family can give.
We need to reverse the current trend. To stimulate warm relationships with our children-the ones they and we both need-we have to and to empower parents to make freer, more balanced decisions about what is right for them and their families. National Family night aims to help parents to feel free-not guilty- when they say no to some scheduled activities and choose to spend time with their children with no goal in mind beyond the pleasure of spending time together. Knowing that their parents enjoy their company, like them for who they are, not what they do, is what convinces children at the deepest level that we cherish and value who they are more than any award they bring home. In the long run, this is far more valuable and important to their sense of self, far more likely to contribute to their success in life, than any activity we can sign them up for. What our children really need is us. That relationship is the greatest gift we can give them for it imbues them with the deep, inner conviction that we love and cherish them for who they are. That sense truly bolsters a child's self-esteem and encourages their success, and optimism, for the rest of their lives.
National Family Night and Family Night a Month are dedicated to gathering support at a national level that will encourage families to act on their realization that family time and relationships are crucial to healthy lives. Some families already are; but others need that bolstering. We hope that Americans in every walk of life and in communities large and small will be encouraged by an effort to set one night a year aside nationally as a night without scheduled activities and homework. In time, families that experience this time as uniquely valuable may translate this into a monthly family event. We advocate no particular activity, though we will offer, and gather, suggestions to help individual families start the process. But with time we hope that each family will discover activities of their own, ones that fit who they are, what they enjoy, and that allows the family to strengthen as a unit just because of the pleasure and intimacy of time spent together. That is what eventually makes for a successful child, a meaningful family, and a strong nation.