Our kids are overscheduled, no doubt about it. In this fast-paced age in which we live, our kids are, sadly, the collateral damage. Between various lessons, after-school activities, homework and other responsibilities, is it any wonder that our children are feeling a tad anxious?
The sad part about this reality is that this next generation of stressed-out individuals will eventually grow up – to become stressed out adults, which is never a good thing. We as parents are partially to blame, especially when we are the ones putting our kids into a dizzying schedule of lessons in order to keep them busy, yes, but to assuage our own feelings of guilt because we can’t spend as much quality time with them as we’d like.
I recently wrote about this reality in Overscheduled Kids and Parental Guilt and was back on CBC Radio’s Fresh Air program to discuss my point of view. Here is the full interview as well as some of the questions that were discussed, below.
1. Define “overscheduled kids”?
Overscheduled kids are children that are booked into a never-ending litany of extra-curricular lessons, activities and classes that extend beyond their regular education. This often means that these children leave school to go directly to soccer, ballet, gymnastics, little league, etc. more than once or twice a week. The majority of these kids’ free time is spent in lessons. As a result, they don’t have a lot of “down time” which we all need to decompress and feel better.
2 . How long has this been going on?
It’s always occurred to some degree but I think the tendency towards overscheduling our children really took off at the same time that parents started working longer hours in order to put food on the table. There’s a strong component of guilt that unfortunately inspires some parents to put their kids in so many lessons. As well, there’s an element of competition and “keeping up with the Joneses” that many parents feel.
3. Why are parents doing it?
There are a number of reasons but I feel that the primary drivers are guilt and competitiveness. Guilt because parents are increasingly tapped for time, are on 24/7 due to the demands of work and the connectivity offered by technology, and competitiveness borne of the achievements of other kids and certain parents’ desires for their own kids to excel. Additionally, there is a whole culture of “Tiger Parenting” as outlined in Amy Chua’s 2011 book “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” in which she recounts her unyielding pressure on her child to excel – at any cost.
4. What’s wrong with keeping kids active and involved?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with kids being active and involved in sports. After all – we all know that there are a number of positive outcomes for both kids and parents when the children are happy and engaged. It becomes a problem when kids are put in too many extra-curricular lessons. Instead of being engaged, excited and stimulated about their lessons, they feel increasingly pressured, anxious and unhappy. The original goal of engaging kids to a positive end is not reached, with both the child and the adult feeling unhappy and unsatisfied.
5. What’s the potential impact on the kids?
We’re going to be seeing a lot more anxiety-ridden and depressed teens and adults if this trend continues. Further, the immediate impact includes a lack of focus for kids, under-achievement at school and a general sense of being overwhelmed. We’re seeing increased instances of depression in children, kids acting out in a negative way, resentment, fatigue as well as more psychological and physical ailments. The long-term effects are adult anxiety, depression and a repetition of this behaviour by these parents towards their own children.
6. Why don’t parents see the downside?
Likely because they themselves are stressed, tired and overwhelmed, and are looking at what they believe to be the end result – success for their kids – rather than the immediate effects of what they’re doing by over-scheduling their children. It’s a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
7. What’s the solution?
Parents need to stop this trend of quantity over quality. If your child is in more than a couple of extra-curricular lessons per week, it may be time to reassess their schedule and perhaps cut back for the time being. There’s always the opportunity to stagger your kids’ lessons; that is – send them to one or two classes per term or season and plan ahead for future months. That way, the children have a goal and can anticipate their upcoming lessons with excitement without having to stress about their existing heavy workload. It’s also a lot cheaper for parents, so everyone wins.
Do you think that our kids are overscheduled? Why or why not? What can we do to change this situation? Answer in the comments section below.