Family time together and family meals together are two factors that can help rescue parents and children and combat "a toxic combination" of excessive cultures in today's society, said Dr. William J. Doherty, a family therapist, educator and researcher in an address at BYU on Feb. 12.
"It's good to spend time together as a family and it's good to eat together — write this down, you heard it here," said Dr. Doherty, having fun emphasizing seemingly old-fashioned values as newfound successes. "Researchers are showing that this kind of 'older wisdom' is really quite important — and young parents raising children believe it, but it's hard to practice. When you lose your family meals, it's hard to get them back."
Dr. Doherty, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota, spoke on "Parenting Wisely in a Too-Much-of-Everything World" in the fifth annual lecture of BYU's Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair in Social Work and the Social Sciences before a capacity audience in the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall and an overflow crowd across campus in the Kimball Tower watching a broadcast of the address.
Present in the building named after President Gordon B. Hinckley were all five of President and Sister Hinckley's five children and three of her siblings as well as Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elders Cecil O. Samuelson and Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy — BYU president and Church commissioner of education, respectively — and Sister Silvia H. Allred, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency.
Prior to Dr. Doherty's address, a 10-minute video clip honoring Sister Hinckley was shown – it was from of a longer DVD when the endowed chair was created. And Dr. Doherty underscored several of Sister Hinckley's statements and observations from the clip early in his remarks.
Today's society faces "ratcheted up," excessive cultures geared toward individuality, competition, super-sized consumerism and "kids-are-fragile" therapeutic thinking, he said.
"I think we think we need a lot to make us happy," said Dr. Doherty, adding "there's so much to offer our children that wisdom and balance is difficult … and in the process, children grow up too fast."
Early in his lecture, he showed a video segment when a TV crew followed a family around for a weekday afternoon and evening. Within five hours, the three children had managed to squeeze in a total of eight after-school activities as well as snacks, separate dinners, homework and getting shuttled from practice to lesson to home.
Noting the interviewed parents as saying they were "pleased" with their children's involvement and that they were "keeping busy," Dr. Doherty said a lack of family time in an adult-driven world "is a cultural norm."
Instead, children and teens are failing to benefit from social skills developed in unstructured, unsupervised, unofficiated experiences with siblings or peers — "we used to call it 'going out to play,' " he said — where a child has to find someone to be with, convince them to play, negotiate what to play, teach others how to play, help enforce the rules and decide when to stop.
While studies have shown that extra-curricular activities have some positive impact on the academic, social and psychological development of a child, Dr. Doherty cited other studies that say an overload of such activities has a much greater negative impact.
He also cited national and multi-national studies that show family meal time is a strong predictor of academic and psychological adjustment in children and teens — better than time in school, sports or cultural arts and helping to decrease future involvement in alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, depression and eating disorders.
Parents work to limit scheduling and eliminate overloads, training and teaching children with an end result in mind. "I think we as parents should determine our success [when they are] at age 25 — and not by how much they like us along the way."
Making changes to emphasize family time together and family meals together is difficult — but doable, Dr. Doherty said.
"Be willing to set a course in a consumer culture that says, 'We have a value-based family, a family with vision, and we're setting that course,' " he said, adding "it takes courage, it takes vision, it takes values, and it takes being a part of a community that has vision and values and courage to parent wisely in a too-much-of-everything world,"