Ed and Sue Hansen were struggling with their oldest teenage boy, Jason. He was often irritable, moody, and disrespectful. That year, Ed decided on a rather unconventional family “vacation”. Instead of a trip to a theme park, Ed booked flights for the family and one of Jason’s friends to Guatemala where they would spend a week working in an orphanage.
The first day in the orphanage, Jason was left to his own devices to entertain and sooth several crying children. As soon as one would stop, another would burst into tears. At one point, Jason had three children in his lap and another three clinging to his arms and legs. That night, while driving back to the hotel where the family was staying, Jason sat quietly in the back until his friend noticed he was silently crying. When asked why he was crying, Jason expressed the overwhelming feelings of gratitude and shame that had washed over him as he realized how little he appreciated his own family. This attitude stayed with him as he returned home and the family saw great improvement in his behavior, attitude, and family interactions.
Perhaps in all of history, Americans have never had so many recreation choices. There are endless movies and TV shows, sporting events to attend and participate in, plays, museums, outdoor recreation, and the list goes on. How do families choose the best activities from so many options?
One researcher created the pyramid (pictured below) as a way of ranking the value and meaning of recreation activities. At the top is creative participation, the highest and most challenging form of recreation; at the lowest is acts performed against society. Note that near the bottom, ranked only above personal injury and acts performed against society, is entertainment, amusement, escape, and killing time. (Insert Nash’s pyramid) Sadly, much of our family experiences are of the entertainment and amusement variety; more than half of Americans claim television is their primary form of entertainment, and youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spend nearly 8 hours a day, seven days a week with some sort of media. These passive, entertaining pastimes we engage in with our families cannot create the optimal experiences we discussed earlier. And even among the creative engagement types of activities, we can impose a similar hierarchy and learn to select the best activities that will be of most benefit for ourselves and our families.