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Kids Really Aren't Overscheduled

5 Hours a Week Is the Average for Organized Activities
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 14, 2006 - Little League, music lessons, Scouts, and dance recitals are just a few activities that may be on your kid's agenda. Is today's typical child as overscheduled as a corporate CEO -- and just as stressed?

A group of leading child development experts is challenging the popular notion that kids engage in too many organized activities, and that the pressures of overscheduling are leading to substance abuse and other developmental problems.

Rather than spending too much time participating in organized activities, most kids don't spend enough, they say. Around 40% don't participate in organized sports or other organized activities at all.

Joseph L. Mahoney, PhD, of Yale University, and his colleagues reviewed the published research and concluded that children and teens involved in organized activities tend to be better adjusted than those who are not.

Such children are apt to have better academic performance, more functional family relationships, and less substance use.

"Nearly half of children are not involved in organized activities at all," Mahoney, a child development researcher, tells WebMD. "This is of great concern, because across a wide range of outcomes, studies show that children who don't participate tend to have more adjustment problems than those who do."

Five Hours a Week

Among Mahoney's and his colleagues' major findings:

  • The average youth (aged 5-18) spends about 5 hours a week participating in organized activities, compared with around 15 hours watching television.

  • Only about 6% of adolescents aged 12-18 spend 20 hours or more a week engaged in organized activities.

  • Kids and teens tend to participate in organized activities because they want to. Pressure from parents, coaches, or other adults is seldom given as their reason for joining in

Busting the Myth

There was little support for the hypothesis that kids who lack free time end up stressed out and developmentally impaired.

Even those who spent 20 hours or more a week participating in organized activities tended to be as well adjusted, or even better adjusted, than children who didn't participate at all, according to Mahoney.

The findings appear in the latest issue of Social Policy Report, a journal published by the Society for Research in Child Development.

The Overscheduled Parent

Another child development researcher says that among affluent youth especially, the overscheduling of parents may be the bigger threat to child development.

"Perhaps more so than the children, it is the parents who are overextended, with ongoing conflicts regarding their life roles," Suniya S. Luthar, PhD, of Columbia University Teachers College, writes.

"On the one hand is the deep-seated desire to be the best possible parent for their children. On the other hand, there can be powerful draws from work." Luthar says.

Luthar tells WebMD her research suggests affluent, highly educated, overextended moms are under tremendous pressure to do it all. She says most women who balance motherhood and high-stress careers end up frustrated.

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