Crib notes: Too many activities drive us mad
My husband gave me a knowing look as other moms and I clamored at a school event to discuss day camps for our older children this summer. I’ve never been big on sending my kids to camp, but relish the freedom from constricted schedules that summer brings instead. Yet as my son is about to turn 10, it seems more of his peers are scheduled a good portion of the time now and I want to pencil him in.
My husband later reminded me of our agreement not to get sucked into too many activities for our kids. “When I was growing up I just rode my bike around with friends or we went to each other’s houses in the summer,” he said, reminding me of my own carefree childhood summers but also of how prevalent camps, clinics, sports and all other extracurricular activities have become for kids today.
Why are our children so busy? Whether we’re all keeping up with the Joneses or simply wanting to give our kids more opportunities than we had, there are plenty of reasons why we must stop the hamster wheel of keeping our kids so busy all the time.
For one, kids would rather have downtime and most parents aren’t happy about carting them around all the time. How often do parents secretly cheer when rain cancels practice, or celebrate the rare, free weekday night? Writer Jennifer Conlin argues American parents as a whole aren’t as happy as European parents in her recent story “The Non-Joie of Parenting” in The New York Times. Conlin lived overseas when her three children were young and when she moved back to the United States she saw a stark contrast: “In America our whole adult lives revolve around our children’s activities,” she said.
This reminded me of the flummox my book club friends and I were in while planning to see a play together on a Saturday this September — how would our husbands juggle all those Saturday soccer games without us? We all agreed any other month would have its conflicts too so we took the plunge and bought our tickets, albeit a bit guiltily.
I’ve explained to many parents why my sons had to choose between playing baseball or flag football this spring. “We have a one sport per child policy in our house,” I said, “Plus, my kids can’t be busier than me!” I was half joking about the last comment, but have gotten some surprised looks nevertheless.
Conlin shares how her waistline has grown since moving back to America, too. Frantic living and activity hopping has her family zipping through drive-thrus instead of sitting down to have homemade meals or take leisurely walks together.
Too many activities may also be a reason our students are academically lagging behind their global peers. I often wonder what would happen if kids spent as much time reading or studying as they spend taking part in their combined evening and weekend activities.
With all of the terrible stories in the news, no wonder parents want to keep their kids in structured activities instead of letting them jump on their bikes to go to a friend’s house. However, according to the head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, nationally we have the same crime rate as 1970. So if you grew up in the ‘70s or ‘80s, today is actually a safer time to be a child. And it isn’t because we have been keeping kids indoors. No, awareness, cell phones and other reasons are given for the drop in overall crime rates.
Last, we should also take more structure out of kids’ lives and let them have more down time is to see what kind of creativity and self-reliance they can foster when left with the chance to make some choices on their own.
Julie Samrick is the mother of 4 children and a resident of El Dorado Hills. She is also the founder of KidFocused.com, a site devoted to current children’s issues.