The animals in the Hong Kong Zoo were growing noticeably fatigued, unhealthy, and more edgy and testy with each other as the zoo grew in human observers. So, according to the account in Newsweek, the zoo's directors decided to give the animals time off by closing the gates to the public one day a week. The animals showed some improvement, but still there was more fighting and sickness than what seemed normal. Again, the directors met and decided to do what had never been done: Close the zoo two days every week. This time, results were dramatic. Health and playfulness were restored. The animals quit fighting. The directors were amazed. There's a lesson there for parents. If your kids aren't acting like the maturing, lovable creatures they were meant to be and your home is beginning to feel like monkeys in a cage...try closing the zoo.
People everywhere ask me about America's kids in the 21st century and what differentiates this generation from that which came before them. There are many! But one stands out like the flash of a camera in a dark room. America's modern day family looks like a pendulum of a clock; on the broad stroke of the pendulum to the left you see bored kids . . . really, really bored kids, watching three or four hours of TV a day or playing video games and texting until their fingers drop off. On the other swing of the pendulum you see busy kids.
Busy, busy kids. Up early for workout or college prep study sessions; off to a challenging high-demand day at school, followed by an athletic training session, band practice or school function, whisking through a fast food line, and hitting the books 'til 'late thirty' before dragging themselves into bed. The minivan screams off to umpteen practices of all kinds, clubs, support groups, school functions, in and out of season workouts, high-demand coaches, tutors, a cramming session at McDonalds and flying home for studies and a few precious hours of much needed rest.
Somewhere in the middle of that pendulum swing is my favorite word in family building . . . BALANCE.
CLOSE THE ZOO and find some balance! If the Hong Kong Zoo animals' performance improved, so much more our kids. Jump on board with me and let's take a little road trip down the Avenue of Balance. (And let's drive 35 miles per hour!)
"FAMILY" doesn't happen in the drive-thru lane! In the eighteen years that will travel at twice the speed of light, those diapers become Levis, the booster seat becomes a driver's seat, and your youngest child's bedroom becomes a "guest room" as he/she scurries off to college. We get only eighteen important, precious, significant . . . no, sacred . . . years to be in a family. Family happens at home!
Family happens at the dinner table.
Family happens at bedside devotions.
Family happens on an all-family camping trip.
Family happens on a mom/daughter retreat.
Family happens around a Monopoly board.
Family happens holding hands in prayer.
Family happens when "time out" is called and the game of chaos comes to a screeching halt.
Family happens when a home-cooked meal is being served.
Family happens when all family members sit together at church.
Family happens when all electronic hand-held devices are in a drawer!
Want to CLOSE THE ZOO and experience family?
First of all, set down some ground rules. . . some core values . . . some family absolutes. Grab the reins of this runaway wagon of exhausted ponies and take charge of the schedule again. Let everyone know that we will all sit together in church, that we will all huddle just before bed three nights a week and read Psalms together and share prayer requests, that we will seek out and pursue a family mission trip to the inner-city or neighboring country in the next twelve months, that we will all get our calendars and go camping or skiing or sailing together, that we will eat supper together three to five nights a week, that we will take on a project for a less fortunate family, that we will pool our pocket change in our piggy bank and send an inner-city child to Kids Across America. Family stuff! Remember, it is not how many fish you caught with your son. It's how much you laughed when your tent started leaking! ACTIVITY: Menace or marvel? It's up to you.
The single, biggest mistake Debbie Jo and I made as parents was letting a zealous coach take camp away from our son. Every day all summer he "had" to be in the school weight room. Looking back, we were 'conned' and should have said 'no'. Certain things are more important than year-round sports. One of those things is family, and the other is a camp that stresses, encourages and rebuilds family.
I'm an ex-football coach and sports enthusiast, for sure. Few places in a child's life teach teamwork, sacrifice and mental and physical toughness and humility like sports. All my kids did sports and I believe there are lessons taught on the playing field that are super important! But the basketball floor or the band concert or the school play or the gymnastics arena do not measure up to the memories made on a family outing or four little tykes painting a "Welcome Home, Mommy" banner on an eight-foot piece of butcher paper! In twenty years, no one will count the number of trophies in a trophy case. But no one will ever forget the number of times we all huddled around the dinner table, or card table, or king-size bed, or the living room floor and created something fun . . . together!
Before you sign up your child for a sport or a school activity, ask a few questions and count the cost of participation. Overlay your priorities as a family leader first and make sure there is a match. Plan your "times away" before you sign the dotted line. To be blunt, these old eyes of mine are watching AAU teams and Sunday Morning sports teams and summer long school teams kill the all-important family team like a gunman with an assault weapon.
I've spoken to the Oklahoma University football team a couple of times, and I've never been part of a college sports organization as disciplined physically, mentally and spiritually as that team! I admired their Head Coach Bob Stoop's priorities. Amidst all the pressures to win national championships, all his coaches were encouraged to pack their kids' lunches and get their kids to school before coming to work. No father was welcome before 8:30 a.m. at the office. As long as their children didn't hinder practice, they were all welcome in the arena where their dad coached the Sooners. In Norman it was family first and winning second. No wonder the man found success year after year after year! He CLOSED THE ZOO until the dads had done their first job first.
Dr. James Dobson interviews Joe White on the daily broadcast.
On Day 1 of the two-part broadcast, you'll hear a conversation Dr. Dobson had with Joe White, President of Kanakuk Kamps. They share how memorizing Scripture can root Biblical principles in our children.
Then on Day 2, Dr. Dobson continues his discussion with the President of Kanakuk Kamps, Joe White. The two explain why quality family time is important and how parents can reinforce where their kids are insecure.
Learn More about the Guest
Joe White is the president and chairman of the board of Kanakuk Ministries. He is also the author of more than 20 books including Pure Excitement, Wired By God, and Spiritually Mentoring Teens. Joe speaks across the country for Men at the Cross, Kids Across America, Cross International, and NFL chapels. He is a graduate of Southern Methodist University and holds two Honorary Doctorates. Joe and his wife Debbie-Jo reside in Branson, Missouri and are the parents of four grown children and the grandparents of thirteen.