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Is it our economic and social systems that cause us to feel immense pressure to achieve more, to climb the ladder of success, to be constantly productive? Or is it the media, with its constant stories of dazzlingly impressive people, and social media, with its constant “highlight reel,” creating the fear of missing out on something important if we simply rest?
As parents, we want the best for our children, and in a world where “best,” often means “most” and “more,” that’s what we give them. We want to give them every opportunity to succeed. This leads some parents to encourage their kids to enroll in as many extracurricular activities as possible.
And of course, there are many benefits to extracurriculars! Participating in extracurricular activities can help kids build social skills, boost self-esteem, and develop new interests. Research has shown that kids who participate tend to perform better academically due to learning important skills like time management and discipline.
But of course, as with any modern parenting topic, there are people who say you’re doing the wrong thing, this time by giving your children a busy schedule. You can’t win! Enter...”over-scheduling.”
What is "over-scheduling," exactly? Simply put, it's when a child's schedule is so packed with organized activities and scheduled events that they have little to no free time. According to some, this can lead to burnout, stress, and other negative effects. Is this a real problem, or just another thing to make you doubt your parenting abilities?
In this post, we'll explore the concept of over-scheduling, analyze how big of a problem it really is, and discuss its impact on family life and child development. We'll also provide some tips for bringing balance to your child's schedule and creating more downtime for your family.
Concern about kids being over-scheduled has cropped up in recent decades. There are real societal trends driving kids to be busier. Academic pressure has increased, and it genuinely is harder to get into college than it used to be, causing kids to fill up their schedules to pad their resumes for college applications. The 24-hour-news-cycle has made parents much more fearful about child safety than they used to be, meaning that parents are less likely to let their kids roam the neighborhood unsupervised or engage in other forms of unstructured playtime. Today, it’s more likely that a child’s parents work rather than stay at home, and when you’re not willing to let your child be unsupervised, that means they need to be watched. After-school activities are a great form of babysitting.
There are also some who argue that parenting is a more intense, anxious process than it was in the past, particularly for middle and upper class families. In the New York Times article “Overscheduled Children: How Big a Problem?,” psychologist Dr. Young-Eisendrath said things used to be different, “not just because there was a parent staying at home but because parents didn’t have this obsessive interest in children’s lives.”
Others argue that the era of peak overscheduled kid ended with the COVID-19 pandemic. With school activities, extracurricular activities, and everything else cancelled, many families experienced how nice it was to have the time to connect & relax at home together and decided they weren’t going back.
"I personally don't miss any of it, the nonstop birthday parties, the classes," said Pam Moore, a mom of two. "In the pandemic, my kids had time for their imagination, like the night they made their own art gallery to display their art and gave me and my husband docent-like tours. We are being intentional with our time now to make sure these new traditions don't get lost."
At Prisma, we’ve met some families who even decided to homeschool or worldschool based on how much they liked the increased family time and decreased stress during the pandemic.
In a world where some amount of extracurricular activities are essential for success, it's easy to fall into the trap of over-scheduling. Especially when it’s not clear where the line is between over-scheduled and happily busy. But what might be the potential negative consequences of over-scheduling?
So, how do you know if your child is overscheduled? The answer will vary depending on your child's age, interests, and personality.
Some kids can handle more activities than others. If they are truly passionate about all of their activities, you might be surprised by how much they can handle. You know your child best, but some warning signs that their schedule is becoming too much for them might be moodiness, complaining about activities they used to like, low energy, getting sick a lot, or having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.
Parent attitude matters, too. Some would argue that it’s not the amount of activities, it’s how parents act about the activities that can cause anxiety. Do you ever find yourself putting a lot of pressure on how your child performs in their activity? Do you compare your child to others? Do you pressure them not to quit something they don’t want to do anymore?
And of course, most kids don’t know when to quit. They get caught up in the excitement. It’s your job as a parent to model skills for planning your life to avoid stress.
If you suspect that your child is overscheduled, it's important to take action to create more unstructured time in their schedule. Easier said than done, we know!
Overall, overscheduling is something to consider in context of your family’s values & personalities. Maybe being super busy is something that fits your family’s energy and vibe! Or maybe you’d prefer a slower lifestyle with more depth than breadth. You know what’s best, and trust your instincts- it’s judging ourselves based on the standards of others that got us into this mess in the first place!
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