The Overscheduled Child

Given our climate of quarantine at the time of this writing, it seems inopportune to discuss the overscheduled child, but when the gates re-open and the children released back into the wild, it will return to the front lines as an issue. Children have so many options to fill their time after school, from sports to music lessons to clogging. The “crazy-busy” tattoo that the SUV-wielding parents have emblazoned on their bicep as a badge of honor is a testament to a culture of families who take pride in their can’t stop-won’t stop mentality.

We should stop.

Social distancing may have taught us something we didn’t expect to learn. We CAN entertain ourselves. The children WILL survive without their two sports teams per season with practices 6 nights a week. The family CAN actually eat dinner not strapped in their car seats (even though we are still getting drive-thru meals). We DO remember how to play card games and teach our kids some geography.

Overscheduling isn’t just about after school activities for the younger set. It’s also about resume building for the older kids with hopes of attracting that college admissions panel’s attention. If your child hasn’t been at least vice-president of three clubs by junior year and taken that all-important trip to a country with non-potable water to teach proper sanitation, the Ivy leagues will be just a pipe dream.

Kids don’t need Ivy to be great.

A child’s worth isn’t measured by the institution’s name on his or her diploma; it is a compilation of achievement, independence, and recovery from failure. Julie Lythcott-Haims, in her revolutionary book How to Raise an Adult, laments that children are mortgaging their childhoods, sacrificing their free play time and achievement of self-efficacy for SAT scores and club participation. She instructs on how to relax the college arms race and allow growth and thoughts to unfold in adolescence. A distillation of her work is that parents need to back off.

So how can we do better?

Encourage unstructured time. This means don’t plan play dates and supervise them. Throw some stuff in the yard, and let your kids invite the neighbor kids over. Don’t tell them a better way. Let them argue about who is in the first spot in four-square. You figured it out, and they will, too.

Kill the screens. This isn’t new territory, as we have all heard this recommendation many times. Go back to the card games you taught them during quarantine, and ditch the phones for an hour. Quit letting those gals from Frozen be the calming influence for your preschoolers. Practice mindfulness as a family.

When it’s time to play a sport or pick an instrument, let your kid choose it. Your only rule should be you have to finish the season. If he or she hates it, then they won’t pick it again. They learned from their choice that we make decisions sometimes we regret.

Most of all, relax. Your parents let you live on Poptarts and afterschool specials, and you’re doing okay now. You had dial up internet and didn’t know who was calling before you picked up the phone when you were 9. We’ve got this.

Your independent and self-actualized kids will thank you.

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