This past weekend hundreds of kids attended the county recreation department’s opening day ceremonies for t-ball, baseball and softball. On average these sports will require those kids (and parents) attend practices each week and games on the weekends.
But for many of those children their extracurricular activities don’t end there. Some are also taking karate (to help with their self control and concentration), voice or violin lessons (to develop their right brains), Boy or Girl Scouts (to foster a sense of civic responsibility), or one of the other plethora of choices arranged by the parent that will create the perfect, most well-adjusted child possible.
Unfortunately, having your kid enrolled in multiple enrichment activities has become synonymous with being a “good parent.” This world-view posits that the best parents will sacrifice anything (even money they probably shouldn’t spend) to give their child every opportunity. What if our child is a tap dancing prodigy or the next Mozart, but because we don’t fork over $65 a month for lessons they never realized their potential? So here we go, signing them up for activities that change from year to year, and which can result in stress for both the child and the parent.
This world-view also causes some parents (whether they admit it or not) to feel pressured into signing their child up for activities – if they didn’t they feel they’d be seen as a bad parent.
Some studies say there is no such thing as the “overscheduled child,” but we disagree. Some kids are just way too busy to enjoy being kids.
One Psychology Today article goes into the life of Kevin, a boy who was on the verge of clinical depression because of his hectic schedule. When he spoke in private to the author Kevin said he missed time playing with his friends outside. When the author asked Kevin’s mother about his schedule and suggested a link between that and the depression she said he was crazy. Kevin loved the activities - and even though her own schedule was hectic she wanted to give him a “good childhood” because her parents never did anything with her.
Beyond the potential for stress, overscheduling our children also inhibits their ability to be creative. John Cleese – the brilliant mind behind Monty Python - gave a lecture to a group of video students on the subject of creativity. In his lecture he outlined five basic requirements he found to be crucial for fostering individual creativity -- Space. Time. Time. (Yes, he listed it twice). Confidence and Humor. Without having that downtime, he said, there is no time for our brains to relax into a mode of being creative.
Speaking in the Psychology Today article, Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a developmental and clinical psychologist and professor at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California, agrees. "Middle-class children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no 'nothing time,'” she said. “They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen. In our efforts to produce Renaissance children who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity."
One part of the problem is that unstructured time is intimidating and uncomfortable for some, and the truth is our lives seem less trivial and more meaningful if our day planners are full. The harder truth is most of us wouldn’t know how to handle not being busy. How would we fill in the space?
Fortunately, this incessant busyness is not mandatory– it’s something we’ve chosen and it’s something we can un-choose. We agree that these activities do teach things like teamwork and responsibility and they do develop skills parents can’t teach, but too much of a good thing is a problem.
Our kids need strong relationships, not a relationship lived on rides in the car from fast-pitch lessons to baton. Let’s focus on our parent-child relationships and everything else will fall into place.