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Kids and After-School Activities: Is It Too Much?

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  • 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.

Unfortunately, there's not a prescription for reclaiming family life. "Every family has unique needs, so you've got to figure out what works for you," Doherty says. "But it's a good idea to let children know that sometimes they have to make sacrifices for the good of the family," he advises.

Here's what some of Doherty's clients have done to get their lives back:

  • Limit each child to one sport per season, plus one other activity.
  • Reduce the number of children in the family who participate during any one sports season.
  • Begin making decisions now about next season or next year.
  • Enjoy a summer "sabbatical" from all outside activities.

Doherty's message, from his book Take Back Your Kids, has struck such a chord that one group of Minnesota parents is calling for an across-the-board slowdown for families.

The group, called Family Life 1st, "just began as a town meeting of parents, coaches, ministers, and Scout leaders" in the town of Wayzata, says organizer Carol Bergenstal, a mother of two teens. "Surprisingly, most of them have been receptive to our concerns."

But the group didn't stop there. "Now we're in the process of developing a seal of approval for organizations that respect the need for regular family dinners, outings, and vacations," Bergenstal tells WebMD. "And we've gotten dozens of calls from all over the country about how to start such an initiative."

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