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How to Know if Your Child is Overscheduled
We seem to be living in a world where every minute of every day is filled with an activity. Children go to school for seven or more hours, then come home to homework, music lessons, sports practices and more. For years we have been cautioned not to "overschedule" our children, that they need down time to play in an unstructured way. So how do you know how much is too much?
How Much Is Enough?
First off, is your child's schedule putting undue pressure on the family? This needs to come first in priority over the wishes of the child. If the family is under stress because parents can't catch a break between shuttling junior between karate tournaments, violin recitals, and marching band practice, it's going to hurt the kids.
We want to give our children everything we had, wanted to have, or saw other people have. We want to teach them that they can do anything, be anything. But it's also important to teach kids about choices and limitations. There is a limited amount of time in a day, a week, a lifetime. It's okay to say no to things we want to do. (Parents who push children into activities they don't like have other issues.) We live in a society of riches where just about anything you can think of can be had, for a price.
The price is not only financial (though that may be significant), but also paid in time. Are you sacrificing time that could be spent with family to squeeze in one more activity? Are grades slipping because homework is rushed?
Kids Know Best
If your child is tired in general or has a bad attitude about participating in a particular activity, cut something out. Ask kids' opinion and then act on it. Free time has become so structured with the advent of ‘play dates' that kids can lose out on a lot of imaginative alone time. Give kids a moment to ponder how they would like to spend some precious down time. Take your cues from your child and remember that your role as a parent is not to control every moment of her life, but to guide her.
The Good News
For those with packed schedules, it's sometimes a tough act to balance. The good news is if you think your kids are thriving, you're probably right. For their September 2007 issue, Working Mother magazine spoke with Joseph L. Mahoney, associate professor of psychology at Yale University who said,
"Overscheduled is overstated. The concern has been that parental pressure leads to young people participating in too many organized activities... but research shows that kids' main reason for participation is enjoyment and excitement and that they're actually bored with too much free time."
While I have a problem with kids being ‘bored with too much free time', the rest of it is encouraging. The research also showed that kids spend on average five hours a week in organized activities and fifteen watching TV! Eek, fifteen hours!
That brings up a question about what type of parental involvement there is during non-organized time. Every family situation is different and you have to weigh your own circumstances into your decisions. If the choice is one more activity or hanging out at home with the remote control, sign ‘em up!