How much after-school activity is too much?
We all want to raise well-rounded children — children who do well in school but also have commendable character, children who chase after goals, treat others kindly and know there’s more to life than test scores. It’s one reason we sign them up for extracurricular activities. If in the process we discover they’re a prodigy at cello or basketball, or even if they just end up with a topnotch application for college, we’ll take that, too.
Fifty-seven percent of children between 6 and 17 years old participate in at least one after-school extracurricular activity, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Children were more likely to participate in sports (35 percent) than clubs or lessons like music, dance and language (both around 29 percent).
But how can you tell that your child is participating in too many extracurriculars? When does all of that enrichment cross the line into stress-inducing excessive commitment? After all, your child will have only one childhood. What’s more, your well-being is worth something, too. And the parent taxi struggle is real. Here are a few tips to help you discern what’s right for your family.
- How is your child’s overall quality of life? Is she getting adequate sleep and enough time to do homework? How often does your family eat meals together in your home? Does your child have enough time to just be a kid, to relax, to do nothing?
- Does your child seem to be enjoying himself? When you drop off and pick up your children from their activities, is there usually laughter or usually grumbling?
- Know your child. Each family is different, and each child within that family is different. Some children respond well to the structure and stimulation of lots of after-school activity, and some get worn down by it. Be sure the activities you and your child have chosen are appropriate for his age, interests and abilities.
- Know yourself. Take an honest personal assessment: Are you pushing your child toward an overscheduled life because that’s how you prefer to live, or because you have particular hopes and dreams for your child? Importantly, does your child share those hopes and dreams?
- What would your child otherwise do with her time? If you cut back on all the activity, would your child and your family get some much-needed respite? If so, you might have your answer. Or would your children just end up fighting with their siblings and wasting the day watching YouTube videos? If that’s the case, maybe the structure is working well for your family and you should stick with it.
There’s no doubt that extracurricular activities can be beneficial. They offer opportunities to play, get exercise, learn new skills, and make friends. Just make sure your kids are having fun and aren’t feeling overwhelmed, and the well-rounded child will follow.