Karate, baseball, Awana, Scouts, football, music classes and swim lessons? That’s an awful lot my kids have asked to join — in addition to school.
We have let them.
My husband and I have an agreement: The kids will be involved with at least one sport and one extracurricular activity.
But is it excessive? It probably is, according to some child experts.
First, the benefits of extracurricular activities
Child experts agree extracurricular activities foster three areas of growth for children.
- Character: Instills drive, grit, resilience and sportsmanship in children.
- Social skills: Kids mimic what they see and learn. While occupied with activities, they are less likely to pick up socially unacceptable behaviors.
- Time management: Children learn to prioritize and use the time they are given in healthy, creative ways.
Involvement in activities correlated with higher levels of self-confidence, academic performance, fewer behavioral problems and lower likelihood of engaging in risky behavior, according Maureen Weiss, who studies the psychological, social and physical development of children through participation in sports.
‘Join this club?’ Not so fast
If you are anything like me, you chilled out over the summer with the rigorous schedules we keep. I sure needed the break of playing “Mommy-Taxi.”
But it’s back-to-school time. Surely, you have been inundated with pretty “join the club” fliers — science, debate, dance, you name it — in your children’s backpacks. I have.
Don’t sign your child up for everything they ask for just yet.
Dr. Alvin Rosenfield, child psychiatrist and co-author of “The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap,” has some advice for parents to consider first.
Why parents go overboard
While under pressure to achieve and be competitive, kids are often involved in way too many activities, Rosenfield said.
Over-scheduling “our children is not only a widespread phenomenon, it’s how we parent today,” he said. “Parents feel remiss that they’re not being good parents if their kids aren’t in all kinds of activities.” That’s especially true among middle-class parents.
He said today’s parents enter the slippery slope starting in early childhood, and kids as young as sixth-graders are now expected to start working on college resumes.
Where should parents draw the line?
Parents are packing too much into their children’s day, Rosenfield said, and increasing levels of stress in kids is a real problem.
But, he added, “Taking a child out of all activities is quite dramatic and not always necessary.”
For most families, Rosenfield said the answer is not about eliminating activities, but about reducing the time spent at them.
Does your kid really need to attend karate classes three times a week?
Evaluate your child’s wants
There are three things to consider when deciding what to sign your kids up for, experts say.
- Time and money: Start with low-key, low-pressure activities. Grow from there, but monitor your child’s behavior. Reduce if needed.
- Delusions: Don’t live vicariously through your kids. It’s not about you, it’s about what they want to participate in it.
- Enthusiasm: Is your child asking, “do I have to go?” Then it’s time to find something different or cut down on activities.
Ultimately, Rosenfield said, parents need to talk with their children about what they can handle because “they know when too much is too much for them.”
Is it time to rethink your kids schedules as they head back to school this year? I know it is for my kids.