Moms Blamed for Scheduling the Decline of Western Civilization

Happy sceneThe Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap; Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented Society; Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk: Books with titles such as these fill the parenting section of bookstores. Apparently, parents of today are pushing their children to success--and early burnout--by making sure they attend only the best preschools (those with wait lists and a strict learning-based curriculum, natch), are enrolled in extracurricular activities--dance, soccer, martial arts, music lessons--most nights of the week, and participate in regular, parent-approved and scheduled playdates.

Stuntmother of I do all my own stunts recently heard a radio show discussion of the importance of unscheduled play time:

"The very nice, well spoken doctor (discussing his recent report for the APA on how crucial play is) discussed how play helps children unwind, practice social skills, negotiate interactions with their peers and how current trends in parenting has us all wildly scheduling our children into this or that activity and how children aren't playing enough, that they do what we think they should do rather than driving their own play."

The doctor's premise irked her because--as she writes--"If we schedule our children, it is partly to FIND other children, to take the children to safe places to play. If our children are overscheduled it is partly because we as a society are overscheduled -- our jobs take up way more than the 38hrs over five days thing and we are supposed to go the gym, the supermarket, this meeting and that. We're also supposed to still be young! Pretty! And interested in music! If our children are stressed and anxious, then they're just doing what children always have done -- they're in training for their adulthood."

In the comments of Stuntmother's post, Venessa of Radical Mama points out, "And of course by parents overscheduling their kids, they mean mothers." She continues with her thoughts about the children of yesterday vs. the children of today:

"Whenever I hear these sorts of stories about "kids today" I would like to know what point in history they are referencing. Didn't kids use to work in garment factories? Didn't they use to cook and clean and help raise their siblings? There was never a point in history that children just played all day without any worries or responsibilies."

Those who think that today's children are overscheduled advise that keeping that kind of hectic pace when you're young can lead to burnout at an early age. It also can cause burnout for the parents, too. Kimberly Chastain of Christian Work at Home Moms gives Ten Suggestions for The Overscheduled Child. She asks parents, "Do you feel like a professional scheduler and taxi driver? Are you finding yourself increasingly irritable as you go from one activity to the next?" And comments, "Maybe you and your children are overscheduled." Her suggestions include limiting children to one outside activity each and designating one night a week as "family night."

But is this idea that our children are overscheduled and therefore stressed out and headed for nervous breakdowns at the tender age of eighteen a reality? Or is it a myth, as suggested by a recent Yale study:

"In a nationwide random survey of 2,125 5- to 18-year-olds, the study found that the more time children spend in organized activities, the better their grades, self-esteem, and relationship with parents and the lower the incidence of substance abuse. Even high school students with more than 20 hours of activities a week don't suffer for it, he says. The study defines organized activities as adult-led and having a purpose. It includes community service and after-school programs, as well as music, religious education, and sports."

Trish of Gone to get a coffee gives her opinion on the idea of the over-scheduled child:

"There's a lot of literature on the phenomenon of the over-scheduled child. [snip] I know a kid who does piano, football, cricket, martial arts and swimming (not all at the same time, but there is some overlap) and some people might say to him "how can you do so much?" to which he would no doubt reply, "dude, how can you do so little?"

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BlogHer Contributing Editor Mary Tsao also blogs at Mom Writes.

Image credit: Mary Tsao.

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