Soccer, Cub Scouts, youth group, piano lessons, ballet, swim team, and (oh yeah) school. Kids these days have A LOT going on. Is it too much?
Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a few months). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.
Today’s question: Are today’s kids overscheduled?
Kid wakes up, eats breakfast, gets ready for school, goes to school, comes homes for a snack and homework, goes to soccer practice, eats dinner, takes a bath, reads books or plays, goes to bed. This is just a Tuesday. Lather, rinse, repeat. Don’t forget the piano lesson, Wednesday night church, and dance which leaves maybe one day free day a week for family. This is the life of the privileged kid in our country. Somewhere along the way we decided this is good for all involved.
I’m wondering what happened to riding bikes, playing in the river, board games, making dinner together, listening to music, making mud pies, eating at the dinner table, swinging until there is no pump left in your tired legs, working on art projects, climbing trees, getting lost in the moment before you and not worried about the next, living life together, side by side.
The soccer mom is held up as the attentive and involved parent giving her children taxi time, Gatorade bottles, and a hopeful future. Yet how many children will receive the ever-elusive college scholarship or become a pro? What purpose does this serve and who really benefits in the end? I fear we unintentionally create a certain disconnect by filling up our days with hustle and bustle. Are we afraid we will have to find a different way to invest in our kids or create space for them to become something different than we imagined?
While everyone should have the opportunity to explore their interests, learn to work together on a team, and have a place to throw loads of bounding energy, maybe we have lost something in our efforts to produce well-rounded adults. Neighborhood tribes of kids ruling the cul-de-sac have vanished, along with our ability to just be with our kids without the booked calendars. Kids no longer know how to play alone for hours on end, taking in the world and drawing their own conclusions. Childhood is a time for exploration, we can leave the programming for the rest of their adult rat race lives.
I grew up in a family of three kids. Both of our parents worked, and we didn’t have a ton of money. Being involved in a lot of activities just wasn’t an option for us. Meanwhile, Ross (an only child in a slightly better-off family) tried team sports for a short time, but ended up going with karate for a while and Scouts even longer. And he fully admits that he only stuck with either because his mother encouraged him to do so.
Looking back, I sort of wish that I had been involved in more activities when I was younger. I deal with sometimes-crippling social anxiety, and I think had my parents gotten me used to being around larger groups of people at a younger age, that might be less of an issue. And with Ross being an only child, he was used to hanging out on his own; as he explains it, it would never have occurred to him to seek out chances to be around other kids had his mother not brought it up.
Taking our experiences into consideration, we’re of the opinion that when it comes to putting kids into activities, you need to be doing it for the right reasons. If it’s an activity that will nurture an existing strength or positively address a weakness, go for it. If you’re considering it just because it will eat up some time or because it’s “what’s expected,” you should step back and think about it.
I say this because a lot of parents seem to be operating under the assumption that if their kid is in the most activities, if they are the most involved, then that family “wins” somehow. I also think there’s now a certain badge of honor in our society that comes from being The Busiest Of Them All. Busy equals “important,” I guess.
Don’t get me wrong. I think structured activities are good and being around other kids is valuable – children will face set expectations and the challenges of interpersonal relationships more and more as they get older. But having every moment of their lives planned leaves them little time to figure out things on their own and make their own choices. They’re going to have to face that as they get older, too.