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Overscheduling Linked to Anxiety in Children, Teens

There was a world before traveling soccer teams, competitive year-round swimming and intensive musical training during childhood.  It can be hard to remember that world because the family norm has become a frenzied shuttle from activity to activity, eating burgers in the car on the way from one place to the next.  But some are asking “Is this what childhood is supposed to look like?”  Rather than jump into the frenetic flow, parents should give some thought to their children’s after-school schedule.

Parents feel a little bit of peer pressure.  When everyone else seems to be on the road to grooming the next Tiger Woods, Serena Williams or Mozart, it is hard to sit idly by and still feel like you are giving the best to your children.  This parental anxiety may be driving more of the family craziness than most moms and dads even realize.

Overscheduling just might be a reflection of parental fear of failure.  Moms and dads want to give the best and be the best for their children.  But no matter how many miles go on the family minivan, it doesn’t guarantee success.  Keeping the kids running won’t insulate parents from failure.  No parent makes it through the process of raising children without making mistakes.  It comes with the territory.

On the other hand, loving parents are eager to help their kids develop skills, confidence and an adventurous spirit.  Parents don’t know where their children’s aptitudes lie, so it can be tempting to cram each week full of activities in search of that place where Little Sprout will thrive and shine.  We may have the very best of intentions when we seek to allow our children to explore every one of their potential interests.  We want kids to taste as much of life as possible, but the question is whether  that is wise.  Can a child’s schedule become too full?  Perhaps so.

This kind of lifestyle certainly isn’t affordable, and it may actually be injurious to the child.  Psychologists remind us that life is as much (probably more) about being as it is about doing.  One important job for parents is helping kids come to the realization that people are defined by who they are rather than by what they do.  Does the child whose calendar is stuffed to overflowing get that message?  Kids who are living a life of activity without learning the meaning behind activity and the value of personhood are open to suffering from anxiety.

Add to that the fact that children are learning about marital relationships by watching mom and dad.  If mom and dad are on the treadmill of serving the needs of the children, when do the kids get a chance to see the husband/wife role-modeling that is so important?  Parents may not even realize that by placing their children at the center of the family universe, they are actually robbing children of important life lessons.  Under the surface, kids are stressed not only by their jam-packed schedule, but also by a lack of important preparation for life and relationships.

It isn’t only the family dynamic that suffers when everyone is running stressed -- the child may be missing out on some important personal contemplation and self-examination when life is activity-driven.  The truth is that kids might gain far more benefit from a neighborhood game of soccer or baseball than they ever will from a traveling league.  These sorts of games force kids to create and enforce the rules of play.  They give children an opportunity to work out what will constitute safe, fair play.   This also can reduce anxiety among young people that comes from over-scheduled lives.

There is no magic formula for determining how many activities are too many.  Each family will need to determine what best fits the needs of the members.  But, parents do need to factor in what trade-offs are taking place when the family schedule is a constant whirl of activity.

Posted on June 27th, 2013
Posted in Research

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