I had two conversations this week with other moms who talked about the stress of their kids’ extracurricular activities. Something I relate to and something that I spend a lot of time thinking about when my kids express an interest in a new sport or program, ‘What day of the week is it? Can I get there to watch? Will he love it or hate it? Will he have time for homework on that night too?‘
One mom I spoke with said she was close to tears because her two sons had 5 sports practices between the two of them in the next 5 nights, that would keep them, and her, out until well into the evening and her husband was out of town on business. Luckily she is a stay at home mom who can organize her schedule around these things, but it leaves almost no time for anything else and homework goes by the wayside. The other mom was a woman I had just met who told me during a lunch that her 8 year-old daughter does 8 hours of dance a week (that seems like a lot to me for one kid). She didn’t seem to find it hard to get her there but she did say that’s because she can take her and drop her off. "The beauty of dance classes," she said.
Then yesterday I came across a study by researchers at Kent State University that was presented in Montreal at the Society for Research in Child Development symposium. The lead researcher is examining the issue of over- scheduling kids and whether it is actually detrimental to their mental and physical health. "I think it’s a huge topic right now," Mata was quoted as saying. “There’s definitely a mix of viewpoints.”
In her research Mata followed 1,354 children from birth through age 15 and found that between 70 and 83 percent of U.S. kids and teens take part in at least on extracurricular activity and spend an average of five to nine hours a week in these activities. Only 5 to 7 percent spend more than 20 hours a week doing extracurricular activities. The most involved kids were more likely to be girls from affluent families, their mothers had higher education levels and the girls had higher grades and lower levels of deliquency, compared to less involved kids.
But there are some experts who say parents should be more tuned into what their kids want (and what their own sanity can take with all the shuttling and scheduling). Parents should ask their kids if they feel overwhelmed. If so, it’s time to dial it back, otherwise they run the risk of burnout in a sport they used to enjoy. Linda Balog, who is the former executive director of the Child and Adolescent Stress Management Institute at State University of New York at Brockport was quoted as saying, “We see some kids forced into organized sports at an early age and then get so burned out that they opt not to play in high school. Sometimes parents live through their children’a sort of surrogate self. I think we have to err on the side of backing off a bit..as opposed to everything being organized and structured.”
I have to admit, I agree to a certain extent. I glaze over when I get together with people and all they talk about is their children’s sports activities, how busy they are as a result and how they have no time for anything else. Even though they’re complaining, they really seem to love it. Of course it’s wonderful if your kid excels at a sport or activity, and more importantly’and this is key’they love it, there are tons of healthy benefits to that. But if your sense of self comes from the level of sport your kid plays at, or the number of sports they play in, then I think that adds pressure to kids that goes beyond simply doing their best.