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Taking Back the Family Turf

Dori Pelz-Sherman
San Rafael CA USA
Report from 2001 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 5, September-October 2001, p. 179

"It's wonderful to hear the background music of children," began William J. Doherty, PhD, as he set the tone for a highly interactive discussion examining family life today in his session "Taking Back the Family Turf. The Importance of Face-to-Face Family Time and Family Rituals."

Doherty reported that in the last 20 years we have lost an average of 25 percent of our free time. Families are building their family culture around children's activities, while children are becoming increasingly less able to entertain themselves. Parents have become "cruise ship entertainment directors."

He discussed the breakdown of neighborhoods, how materialism has created a consumer culture of childhood, how the competitive nature of our culture has negatively affected family life, and how smaller families have led parents to see the child as a "host of varied potentials."

Dinnertime is shared with the television by over half of American families. Bedtime rituals are vanishing. Sports programs for children are becoming more involved and controlled by adults. Parents are losing confidence in their own authority. Colleges now claim that incoming students are "burned out" on education by the time they arrive.

Reversing this trend in your own family is possible, according to Doherty, by limiting television, eating meals together, listening to children without giving advice, walking the family dog together, and by asking your children if they want to participate in the activities you sign them up for.

What else can we do? As co-founder of Family Life Ist, Doherty spoke passionately about the movement getting under way in Minnesota. A Family 1st Seal of Approval is granted to an organization when it meets the following criteria:

  • balanced priorities
  • clear expectations
  • family-friendly decisions honored
  • religious commitments honored
  • a common voice for parents

These criteria are explained further on the Family Life 1st Web site (, which tells more about this group of "citizens building a community where family life is an honored and celebrated priority."

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