Recently, a reader asked how she can determine if her child is enrolled in too many extra curricular activities. She also wanted to know the best way to help her child balance such activities with the academic demands of school. Her question was a really good one.
So, I took a look around and found a few interesting things. The concept of “over-scheduling” stuck out the most. Psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfield, M.D. wrote a whole book on it! He describes this concept as a middle and upper-class problem, fueled by a consumer-driven society in which we feel compelled to do more and be more.
In actuality, it’s only really a very small percentage of children who are “doing too much.” On average, children and teenagers spend 5 hours a week on structured activities, with only 3-6% of young people devoting 20+ hours per week. And while extracurricular activities can be very beneficial (improved social functioning and academic performance), these benefits diminish in those who are over-scheduled. For example, the educational benefits of playing sports seem to level off after participation in two competitive team sports.
KidsHealth lists some warning signs that your child may be too busy:
- feel tired, anxious, or depressed
- complain of headaches and stomachaches, which may be due to stress, missed meals, or lack of sleep
- fall behind on their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop
“Structured activities lead to beneficial outcomes, but at the same time, parents need to pay attention to what their child can handle.” – Andrea Mata, M.A., Ph.D. candidate at Kent State University
Busy families may consider limiting the number of activities children will engage in, keeping a calendar to stay organized (e.g. a dry erase calendar), prioritizing to ensure schoolwork comes first, and maintaining downtime and family time.
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