Too many activities can affect family life

May 09, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

William Doherty, professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, is responsible for the founding of Putting Family First, an organization that focuses on families making a conscious choice to establish rituals of connection. According to him, in the past 20 years, parents have been driven by peer pressure to provide their children with all the opportunities they never had to compete with other children in the race for life.

"Children need to be children," states Doherty. They need time to be in control of themselves and their time without adult direction.

Extracurricular activities are not bad. Under the right circumstances, activities provide balance to academic life, enabling children to move their bodies in new and different ways and offering opportunities for socialization and to develop a particular interest.

Experts are beginning to study the effects of involvement in extracurricular activities on children. Here are some statistics worth noting:

  • In the past 20 years, there has been a decline of up to 12 hours per week in children's free time, specifically outdoor activities and playing. In the same time frame, there has been an increase in structured sports time and a five-fold increase in watching television (more than three hours per day).

  • A study of American youth found a strong association between regular family meals, academic success and psychological adjustment.

  • Children ages 9 to 14 who have more regular dinners with their families were found to have more fruits and vegetables, less saturated fat, fewer fried foods and sodas, and more vitamins and other micronutrients.

How do you know if you're over-scheduling your child?

1. Assess your irritability quotient.

Do you find yourself rushing from one activity to another? Do you feel like a chauffeur, yelling, "move it, we're going to be late!" If your family is going in different directions, what happens to family meals? Do ballet and soccer practice come first, before important daily events?

2. Evaluate off time.

Notice what your child likes to do when "nothing" is scheduled. Is he bored and restless, or does he wander off to entertain himself with a game or hobby? Too many scheduled activities may result in a child who does not know what to do when "nothing" is planned. Other children may be overstimulated and have trouble concentrating or sleeping.

3. Set limits.

Discuss your child's interests and give him or her a choice between activities. Agree that he or she can participate in a certain number of activities per week. Recognize that the number of children you have and the number of activities for each child means drive time for you. For some families, one activity per child, per week is plenty.

4. Why are you doing this?

Ask yourself these questions - and answer honestly. Do you want recognition, or do you want your child to grow? Are you the one who needs camaraderie with other adults?

Here are some guidelines regarding how much a child can handle:

  • Ages 3 to 5: One or two activities per school semester.

  • Ages 6 to 8: Two or three activities per semester.

  • Ages 9 to 12: Three or four activities per semester.

Consider these tips to balance scheduled activities and family time:

  • Set family nights on your calendar. No one can schedule anything on family night. Make a special meal, play a game, tell stories, anything to create cohesiveness among family members.

  • Resolve to eat dinner together at least three to five times a week.

  • Schedule goof-off time. Give children the opportunity to play, create and imagine.

  • Relax in nature.

  • Have fun together.

Lynn F. Little is an extension educator with Family & Consumer Sciences of the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

The Herald-Mail Articles