Over-Scheduling Kids—How Much is Too Much?
As another new season approaches, I, like most parents, am faced with the question: what do I sign my kids up for?
Like many of you, I struggle with knowing what is right in regards to my children’s extra-curricular activities. In the past, we’ve bounced from one activity or sport to the next. First it was soccer, followed swiftly by dance, which coincided with basketball, and then transitioned quickly into baseball. Oh, and we can’t forget those piano lessons and scouting activities.
The following questions constantly volley like a tennis match in my head: Are we doing to little? Are we doing too much? Are my kids missing out on something they may be really good at? Am I burning them out too early?
I have no idea. It’s a topic I’ve struggled fiercely with since my children have one by one become “little all-star” ages. I don’t have the answers, but I do think the questions are important.
Are we over scheduling our kids? How much is too much?
Are We Responsible for Finding Their Hidden Talents?
As parents we believe it’s our job to find our children’s hidden talents. We may have the next Rory McIlroy or Shawn Johnson. We may be spoon feeding a future nobel prize winner or changing the diaper of a violin prodigy. That’s a hefty weight to carry.
And because our offspring just might be “the next big thing” someday, we sign them up for every activity imaginable. How are we supposed to find their hidden talents otherwise?
In the meantime, our children are coming home straight from school and being whisked away to tennis lessons, orchestra practice, and jiujitsu. Gone are the days when they sidled up next to you at the kitchen counter and uttered the words, “I’m bored.”
And because we want them to explore every avenue—horseback riding, swimming, lacrosse, art—we exhaust our bodies and our checkbooks making sure no opportunity goes unearthed.
I’m pooped just thinking about it.
The Slippery Slope of Parent Competition
If you haven’t noticed, the age in which you have to get your kids involved is becoming younger and younger.
In my neck of the woods, football starts for kids as young as three-years-old. THREE YEARS OLD! In “the old days,” waiting until the seventh grade to start playing a sport was totally acceptable. In fact, it was the norm. Now if you waited that long, your kid’s only spot on the team would be the bench. Today’s kids start activities not when they’re in fifth grade, not when they’re in 2nd grade, but when they are barely toddling around.
It’s a slippery slope of what I consider parent competition. Forget what the kids want, we’re so worried about the neighbor kid having an advantage over our kid that we sign him up a year early. We want our child to make the team so badly that we start them out earlier and earlier. It’s led to a sad phenomenon and a very slippery slope—the kids who start early are the kids with the skills, the kids who make the team. (And yes, they start cutting kids from teams in grade school now.) There’s no room on the team for a 10-year-old boy who is just starting to take an interest in football. His time has passed.
If you do sign your kid up early, you’re committing your time and your money for years and years to come. you also run the risk of burning them out before they even hit puberty. If you don’t sign them up when every other kid is starting, your kid misses out.
What’s a parent to do?
The Prodigy Fallacy
Many parents, myself included, harbor an inner pipe dream that our child has prodigy potential. They just might be the next singing sensation or Olympic high diver…that’s why we cram their schedules with so many activities. We make sure they try gymnastics, guitar, ballet, chess…on the off chance that it might be their calling in life.
The reality is that a only an infinitesimal number of children go on to be world class. Of course some will, and among those tennis stars and professional basketball players, one might be your child. But as parents we need to take a step back and realize that right now, in this exact moment, we are raising children, not professionals.
Is it better to be great at one…
By now you’ve noticed I’m full of questions. Still waiting on the answers. So is it better to hone your child’s skills in one area, therefore ensuring they’ll be amazing in that one area?
Take golf for example. The game of golf is one of the most challenging and meticulous sport to master. By the age of two, Tiger Woods was swinging a golf club better than most adults. By three, he shot a 48 over nine holes. Before turning seven, Tiger won his first golf tournament. He turned pro at age 20 and won the Masters a few months later. Hailed a prodigy, he started young and ate, drank, and breathed the game of golf. His parents no-doubtedly led him down a one-way cart path towards golf, golf, and more golf.
Even if our kids don’t make it to the big leagues, maybe focusing on one activity will earn them full-ride college scholarships or help them earn a living.
…or okay at many?
Or—since the chance of producing a prodigy is just as small as winning the lottery—is it better to expose your children to many different activities, forming them into well-rounded individuals?
From the moment my mom and dad first signed me up for t-ball, I loved being active and trying new things. I begged and they acquiesced to let me try clogging, singing, softball, and piano. I can’t even begin to equate the money they spent on my “training.” Did I become amazing at any of them? Not really. But as I got older I gravitated towards the ones I really loved. I became a decent athlete with a pep in my step, a clear alto voice, and a knack for leadership. I can honestly say that being involved in so many fun and different activities molded me into the person I am today.
But what if we get it wrong?
Like I said before, I’m offering up a lot of questions and few answers here. But I think that’s the thrill ride of parenting—figuring it out through trial and error what’s good, better, and best.
Bottom line: if you love your kids, you can’t go wrong. But if the tension in your house is spiraling higher and higher because everyone has a million places to be, you may be over-scheduling their childhood. If you’re having an anxiety attack over whether to put them in karate or cello lessons, take a step back and do neither. Let them be children. Let them have a chance to be bored once in a while. Allow them a chance to get dirty, to read a book, to be creative on their own accord. You just might find they are amazing at something you never even imagined.
Looking for more parenting inspiration? You got it! Check out a few of our favorite parenting posts here: