How much is too much for your child…and for your family?
The Tiger Mother, admits in her now renowned book that she pushed her daughters into every extracurricular activity that she could muster (and afford) with the belief that doing so would make them more well rounded and ready for a successful life in this world. And it seems today, that many parents – whether they know anything about being a tiger mother or not, are investing thousands of dollars as well as irreplaceable time into premature juvenile careers that might be pushing both the child and the family to the brink of failure.
Today, child psychologists are seeing firsthand the price these children (and their parents) have to pay in order to maintain this lifestyle. In the last decade, children are being diagnosed with clinical depression 35 times more often than they were just ten years ago. Clinicians dealing with the children by and large say that the depression is due to the absence of a ‘normal’ childhood. Sadly, the idea of normal today – is not playing in the yard after school with neighbors, building forts or riding bikes. Today, the routine of a ‘normal’ child is filled with school, studies plus an average of 3 extra curricular activities, plus social and religious activities.
Even more stressful, is that long gone are the days of children playing baseball or football on a team and spending sole Saturday afternoons at the park. Today, children – even with local recreation departments are scheduled for numerous practices per week and spend weekends practicing or playing games. Millions of parents in the United States each year also had the pressure of ‘travel’ sports to their child’s curriculum which can cost the parents thousands of dollars per year, and can lead to spending around 20 hours (or more) per week in practice or game time.
Are we perhaps pushing these kids too hard?
A leading child psychiatrist and author of the book, The Over Scheduled Child, Alvin Rosenfeld says, “Over scheduling our children is not only a widespread phenomenon, it's how we parent today. Parents feel remiss that they're not being good parents if their kids aren't in all kinds of activities. Children are under pressure to achieve, to be competitive. I know sixth-graders who are already working on their résumés so they'll have an edge when they apply for college."
And his fears that this over scheduling of the children is leading to behavioral disorders, illness, emotional stress fractures as well as clinical depression is echoed in nearly all child psychology experts abroad.
Still, the experts do agree that children should be able to have new experiences and engage in activities outside of the school that will enrich their lives. But when these activities seemingly take over their free time, and manipulate down time and family connections – the consequences are grave for all involved.
The medical condition of stress occurs in children when they are overwhelmed. By being involved in too many things, too much of the time, the children while exposed - aren’t offered any opportunity to truly connect to the activities that they are passionate about. And while most parents will say, “My child loves his or her activities,” the bottom line is that children are often afraid to express their discontent with being too busy in fear of upsetting mom and dad. And frankly, they shouldn’t have to put in that position.
For many families, part of the natural family process becomes illusive when kids are involved in too many things. Suffering in highly active households today are deep family connections, time to relax, extended family relationships, friendships, as well as the stress of the financial burdens associated with paying for and chauffeuring to these outside activities.
Experts recommend that parents, rather than try to give their children an edge – look for balance. Expand the palate of interest by allowing kids to make choices to participate in one (or two for older children) activities at a time so they can truly experience the sport or trade, and yet still have the free time that comes once in a lifetime when a child is young. Additionally, look for signs and symptoms such as nagging health problems, moodiness, behavior disorders, or even learning disorders that may signal your child is suffering from too much stress.
It is also important as a parent to realize that indulging one child in too many activities can be hurtful, if not down right malicious to other children in the household. Often, what happens in high achieving homes is that one child who is extra talented, is put o a pedestal of sorts and the siblings are never able to maintain that standard. This can cause some serious dysfunction within the family that can last throughout adulthood.
Here’s the thing! Parents need to realize that while extra curricular activities add immense benefit to children – it all has to be taken in moderation. Parents should not be succumbed to a life that is nothing more than providing children transportation and access to multiple activities, and children should not be expected to perform in excess of 40 hours per week. Their social, emotional, and physical development hinges on much more than simply acquiring an edge early in life by being overscheduled and overworked. When pushed too hard, by the time it matters – these kids won’t have the energy to perform or the gumption to succeed because they will be suffering from so many stress related disorders and tainted flashbacks of how unfulfilling their childhood was.