The Dangers of Over-Scheduling (or, relax, Scott, Nicky will almost certainly not be an Olympic gymnast)

The idea for this post came to me while sitting in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge taking my son Nick to gymnastics.

Nick at gymnastics

More than anything, our kids need time with their dads.  Even more than that, they need time with us when we are truly present- not surreptitiously texting, not stressing out about what we need to do at work tomorrow, but truly focused on our kids and making the time we have (limited as it sometimes is) really enjoyable.  We all know this, but it is often hard to carve out the time (see my previous post about family dinners for more on this topic). 

Most dads I know feel incredible pressure to schedule their kids in activities (especially when we dream of Olympics or college athletic scholarships!).  Often without realizing it, we end up over-scheduling them, which is good for no one.  Especially because over-scheduling cuts into the very limited time we can carve out for incredibly valuable unstructured time.

Instead of quality time with their dads, our kids get to see the backs of our heads in the car as we shuttle them from thing to thing.  We’re focusing on the traffic, thinking about the uncompleted tasks on our to-do list (or calculating future college tuition payments in our heads), and, while we’re in the same car, we’re probably not interacting as much or as well with our kids as we’d like (especially if Radio Disney is on or we’ve broken down and bought them a Sony PSP). 

Then, when we do get to the activity- art, music, dance, sports, what have you- we’re often dropping the kid off to go have quality time with peers, a coach or a teacher.  Unless we are directly involved in coaching or volunteering to help, we’re often just standing on the sidelines, sucking down coffee and checking in on work (I’m one out of two on this myself- at baseball, I’m actively involved with the kids and coaches. At Nick’s competitive gymnastics class- they trained John Orozco, 2012 Olympian, I sit in the “viewing lounge” responding to email or watching my son and the other gymnasts do amazing things I didn’t think kids of that age could do).  While it is great to attend our kids’ activities, as it is a meaningful show of support, these structured activities usually do not represent quality dad-and-kid time.  (It may represent an excellent opportunity to “network for fatherhood” as discussed in a previous post, however).

I don’t mean to harsh on scheduled activities for kids.  After all, part of our responsibility as good dads is to provide our kids with opportunities to try out lots of different things, discover their interests and talents, and encourage them to develop their abilities.  Signing the kids up for sports, music, etc. represents an effective way to achieve these goals (not to mention, college tuition is expensive these days…).

But, these activities have a way of becoming too much of a good thing.  There’s a lot of subtle pressure out there in the culture to sign kids up for more and more (and, as guest blogger Neil Cohen wrote, there’s a lot of pressure parents put on their kids to be “perfect” rather than being happy).

I say enough!  One activity, maybe two.  Two, three hours a week, tops.  That’s all I’m willing to do with my seven year old (Nick’s gymnastics coaches are grooming him for the competitive travel team, so I’ll have to put these principles to the test soon).  I don’t know how families with multiple kids juggle it all.

Because, in the end, what your kid needs more than time with a piano teacher or a soccer coach (or even a college scholarship or his face on a Wheaties box) is time with you.  Kids will do better with one or two activities and enough unstructured time with you than they will with three or four activities and not enough of you.

We all know this, but sometimes it feels like limiting structured activities requires an awful lot of swimming against the tide and the Tappan Zee traffic.

-Scott Behson

How do you deal with kids activities? With unstructured time?  Let’s discuss in the comments section.

4 thoughts on “The Dangers of Over-Scheduling (or, relax, Scott, Nicky will almost certainly not be an Olympic gymnast)

  1. Nice post Scott. I just read it on my Flight to the East Coast and it’s provided me with a great opportunity for reflection during a difficult travel day.

    It’s a tough balance between supporting our kids’ development through sports and activities and prioritizing our time with them.

    I’m amazed at how active kids are these days with a mixture of team and individual sports, recreational and competitive teams, and development of skills in the arts. Things have certainly changed since our days of growing up on Staten Island. CYO and/or Little League Baseball represented all of my structured time until High School. The rest was spent outside with my brother and my friends playing pick up baseball, basketball, stickball, skateboarding, etc. These were fun times, but I believe that I was not very well prepared for the pressures of High School activities and sports, as I was always somewhat stressed out with organized activities.

    As a parent today, this time travelling from activity to activity may seem like lost time in the car. However, I do think we are providing our kids with a greater sense of community and individual confidence. As you mention above, our children are developing their abilities socially, athletically, and creatively through our support. I’m so amazed when my daughter joins a new team, and quickly makes friends, even though she may not be one of the most athletic members of the team. She has a confidence to interact with others that is not tied to her ability within the sport or activity. I’ve learned a lot from my daughter by observing her socialization skills through all of these activities.

    I’ve found that the abundance of activities allows her to accept her strengths and weaknesses (and those of others) in a very positive and mature way. As kids interact with each other in a variety of situations, I’ve found that they become much more supportive of one another, and less jealous or insecure about their skills in a given sport or activity. For example, Mary is a great swimmer, Suzy broke her personal best this weekend, Sally is a great singer in choir, Richard is a great basketball player, Mark is always the lead in a play, etc. Through experiencing activities with one another, kids are quickly seeing that we are all different, we all have strengths and weaknesses, and the enjoyment of an activity should not be tied to our individual abilities.

    I’ve also really grown to appreciate this sense of community that these activities build. As parents, we really need to rely on one another to help out with pick up and drop off. We’re also very engaged in volunteer activities either directly as coaches or team parents, or as volunteers with admin functions. As the saying goes, we really need the entire village to help raise our children. Also, the village usually becomes more than just our neighborhood. It usually represents several school districts.

    I’ve often shared the same thoughts represented in your blog post regarding the overabundance of structured activities for our kids today. My wife is the one who usually takes the lion’s share of the driving activities and I’m amazed at the booked calendar of my 10 y.o. I’ve been concerned that my daughter is so busy that it is tough for her to really develop skills to compete at a higher level.

    However, I think it will all pay off on the first day of High School. When our kids go to school on that first day and have friends from gymnastics, soccer, basketball, baseball, guitar lessons, summer camp, art school, drama, choir, swimming, dance class (did I miss any?), it will all pay off. They will be entering this pivotal time in their lives with a great sense of personal confidence, and just as importantly, an appreciation for the strengths, weaknesses, and sense of community with their classmates.

    • Brian- really well-said. You have the soul of a poet- or a blogger! You make a good point about how there is payoff for the kids later in their lives from being exposed to such a wide variety of activities. Like anything else, balance is critical when it comes to activities.

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