Parents, kids thrive in shared activities
10 November 2004

Indiana, USA: "Bye, Mom. See you in a couple of hours," the soccer player says, opening the car door as it draws up to the curb.

"All right, Josh. Tell your coach I can't work the stand at Saturday's game," the mom responds. "I'm sure he can find someone else. I really don't have time."

She speeds away.

Some parents are lucky to see their children's games and performances, much less participate in practices and other forms of preparation. Research has shown that when parents are involved in children's school careers, students enjoy many benefits, including better test performance, higher self-esteem and increased attendance.

But what about extracurricular activities? Studies have shown that kids benefit in many ways, but do parents also benefit from volunteering with them?

Recently, Y-Press talked to two 4-H leaders, three sports coaches and a Girl Scout leader about being involved with their children's extracurricular activities.

All agreed they enjoy the extra time with their children.

"You don't get enough opportunities as a parent to spend time with your kids, and you don't have them for very long. So you need to take the opportunity whenever you can," said Russ Shipley, a soccer coach for his two daughters with Carmel Dads' Club.

"It's just a good bonding time, a time you can spend with them and you're not in front of a TV," added Jeff Schweiger, also a soccer coach with the Dads' Club.

Gary Hayes, a project leader and fair board member for 4-H, says he enjoys 4-H events because they gives him a chance to interact with his son and daughter outside of home.

"Every time I go to the meeting, one of them is there, and we experience sometimes something we can laugh about, sometimes something we can complain about. But you know, we have common experiences."

Different activities require different levels of commitment. Volunteering in sports can take as little as two hours a week during a season, said Schweiger. But scouting and 4-H can require hundreds of hours over a year.

"It's everybody's challenge to juggle time commitments, but you have to do it. That's the most stressful part," Hayes said.

The parents differ on whether they treat their children differently than the other children they supervise. Deana Harter, a longtime Girl Scout leader, said she tries not to favor her daughters.

"If anything, I think that maybe sometimes I short my own kids, give the other kids maybe a little more attention," she said.

Shipley agreed.

"My girls, unfortunately I think, suffer a little bit because we're all very much on guard against favoring, so if anything, they come out on the short end of the stick," she said. "They're both good sports and they both understand, so they just go ahead and we devote our time to the other kids. And if they need some extra time at home, that's fine."

Hayes, however, feels no need to be unbiased.

"I think kids have every right to expect to get special attention from their parents. I'm not sure that that's always possible. A lot of 4-H activities are done as a group, and in that case you don't get individual attention necessarily."

While all the parents agree that participating in their children's extracurricular activities is rewarding, they wouldn't necessarily stay involved if their children weren't. Schweiger said he wouldn't stay as coach because he wouldn't be needed.

"In our community, there are plenty of adult volunteers. There's always somebody who steps up and will take over."

Penny Marsh, a 4-H project leader for about 14 years, said 4-H expects parents to move on when their kids do. "I think the assumption in 4-H is that while your child is in 4-H, you will be involved, and after your child is out, they don't really expect you to continue, and they don't ask you."

But Hayes plans to stick with 4-H. "I can see the day when I won't have a child involved in 4-H anymore, and I hope to stay involved with it. You make a lot of friends, and it kind of becomes your social life in a way," he said.

Overall, the parents agree that volunteering with their kids is very important.

"I think volunteering keeps you involved in your kid's life. It's fun and keeps us young," Harter said.

Marsh added: "Family volunteering is becoming more and more popular. There's probably different reasons for that, one reason being that families tend to be interested in the same kinds of things. But another reason is that there are so many working parents now, that's one of the ways that families can get together and do an activity together. And I think that's wonderful."

From: Indianapolis Star, USA

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