Unscheduling our overscheduled kids

English racer Doug Larson may have summed up your entire daily life when he quipped “For disappearing acts, it's hard to beat what happens to the eight hours supposedly left after eight of sleep and eight of work.” In fact, how many of us even get eight hours of sleep anymore? On average, adults sleep seven hours a night, and 36% of us sleep only 6.5 hours or less. So where is all that time going?  
Every so often we just need to stop, chill and vegetate a bit in order to recharge ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically. If a large part of your day is spent chauffeuring your to their daily round of games, lessons, practices, and activities, you surely wonder, at least sometimes, whether it is all worth it. The harsh yet truthful answer is – probably not.  We would do well to give ourselves and our children a special gift this – free time. 
Of course, we start with the best of intentions: music classes to make our kids smarter, sports to learn good teamsmanship, drama to hone public speaking skills, etc. The problem is, there are so many really good, really enriching activities available for children today! Our kids often want to do them all (at least at first), and we, naturally, want to give our children the best start in life. So we sign them up, and sign them up, and sign them up again. Before you know it, there’s something going on after school every night of the week. 
Unfortunately, our good intentions can lead to very bad results. According to Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Overscheduled Child, this endless round of activities is “unbalancing our families, damaging our marriages, and contributing to unhappy, overstressed children being diagnosed as learning disabled, ADD, , and depressed, as well as to adolescents getting involved with premature sex, drugs, and alcohol.” Not the outcome we parents were looking for when we signed our lovelies up for chess camp and watercolor painting! 
So, is the solution to ditch all extracurricular activities? No, that’s too extreme a reaction. But we do need to make choices and set priorities. First, check to see if and your children feel overscheduled:  
  • Check your own stress level. Do you feel frazzled and short-tempered? Do you resent your children’s activities? Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Check your children’s stress levels. Are they frequently irritable and tired? Are they eating more or less than usual? Are they getting sick more than usual? Do they seem anxious or whiny?
  • Ask your children how they feel about their number of activities and amount of free time  
You and your children may decide you’re all just fine, or you may decide you need to cut back. If you decide to cut back, ask yourself these questions about each activity so you can decide which ones to keep and which ones to toss. These are also good questions to ask before adding any new activities to the mix. 
  • Why are we doing this? Do my children really enjoy it? Am I pushing them into an activity they don’t enjoy in hopes they will be a prodigy or get a college scholarship?
  • Does it fit with our family life and schedule? The number one factor in keeping children emotionally healthy and out of trouble is the amount of time they spend with their families. Does this activity take away too much from family time?
  • What other activities are we already doing? In addition to family time, children need free time to play, imagine, dream, and explore. Saying “yes” to some activities and “no” to others helps ensure they have this time.
  • Do I have the time and money for this activity? You, after all, will be the chauffeur and banker. Can you get your children where they need to be? Can you afford any specialized equipment? Sometimes we have to say “no” for the sake of our own sanity and bank balance.  
I’ll end with another quote, this time from author Annie Dillard. Dillard once wrote that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Are you spending your life and your children’s lives the way you want?


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May 16, 2007

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December 15, 2006

This topic is one that I feel like I've truly worn out the soapbox on. It's best to remember that every time you say "Yes" to one thing you're saying "No" to something else, and it's usually that precious personal time that gets the no! Thanks for sharing tips and advice on this important topic.

Hugs,
Holly
Holly's Corner

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