Kids and After-School Activities: Is It Too Much?
Sept. 14, 2000 -- Between school, sports, Scouts, and artistic and religious activities, your kids might be busier than you are. And even though it's a grind to shuttle them here and there, you take pride in the opportunities you can provide. You may even see your busy calendar as a badge of good parenting.
But do children actually benefit from such a demanding pace? Experts say what kids really need is more time with their families.
"I see burned-out and stressed-out kids every day," pediatric sports medicine specialist Eric Small, MD, tells WebMD. "Youth sports leagues have replaced the backyard pickup game, so kids have much less time to just hang out and relax," says Small, a clinical instructor at New York's Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sports medicine committee.
The stakes get even higher for kids with a special talent. "Children with athletic promise may be recruited to year-round traveling leagues, often with four practices a week and away games on weekends," Small tells WebMD. But while kids are still growing, intense athletic training may injure them or even harm their development, he says. In fact, the AAP advises against specializing in any one particular sport until adolescence.
Most kids would really rather be playing in the backyard than competing with a team, says Stanley Greenspan, MD, a clinical professor of pediatric psychiatry at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington. "Children of all ages want to spend more time with their parents," he says. "And most kids will tell you that they have more fun playing ball with Dad and a friend than in structured sports activities."
The problem is that parents have been misguided, Greenspan tells WebMD. "We've lost faith in family as a means to provide kids with what they need. And we're scheduling activities so tightly that there's not any room for playful exchanges with parents, siblings, and peers," he says.
Greenspan, who is also the author of Building Healthy Minds, offers some guidelines for planning your kids' activities:
- Make sure family comes before everything else.
- Allow plenty of time for interaction with friends.
- Schedule activities with the time that remains.
- Select value-based activities, while giving kids a choice of what to do.
And by all means, try to preserve the dinner hour, the experts say.
The long-term effects of overscheduling aren't yet known, Bill Doherty, PhD, tells WebMD. "But we do know that kids who have dinner with their family frequently get better grades. On the other hand, fewer family dinners have now been linked with aggression, depression, sexual behavior, drug use, and suicide in teenagers.
"Providing activities for kids is a well-intentioned slippery slope, because all the hustle and bustle can diminish the quality of family life, especially family dinners and visits with grandparents," says Doherty, a professor of family social science and director of marriage and family therapy at the University of Minnesota.