Dr. Magryta: Overscheduled kids
Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 27, 2018
A parent’s ultimate goal is to raise a capable, energy filled and happy child into a responsible, honorable and successful (depends on your goal) young adult. Historically in the ’60s and ’70s, parents mostly just let their children play while focusing on one instrument and random recreational sports or clubs. They were not pushy. There was ample time for family, friends and achievement. This attitude was based primarily on the economic times where middle class jobs were achievable without major educational investments.
Fast forward to today’s reality of the over-scheduled parent and child. The knowledge that a higher education and hard work are necessary for economic advancement in America has borne this change. We all want our little joy maker to be “well rounded “ and “ready” to advance in society. They bang the piano on Monday, flip in gymnastics on Tuesday and Thursday and attend religious education on Wednesday nights. Saturday is the all day gymnastics event. Thank God for Sunday. Oh wait! Joy maker’s little brother, whirling dervish, has two soccer games on Sunday. You return home Sunday night, sunburnt, exhausted and knowing that tomorrow is Monday.
What have we done? Is it really helping? What about the homework? Yes, they have to do this as well.
We know that organized sports and the arts provide a child with frustration tolerance skills development. Random and differing events may hit upon a passion that the child will carry with him forever and could be a career choice. There are many positives to the activities — yet what are the downsides?
STRESS for all. Exhausted parents see that joy maker is developing anxiety and feels exhausted. She quits gymnastics and says no to everything. Whirling dervish is struggling in school. Homework is hard to complete and he feels overwhelmed. Dinners are an afterthought and fast food is the norm. Two legs of the health stool are compromised: nutrition and spirit/mind. This is a recipe for disaster.
Check in with how you, the parent, feel about the schedule. Ask your child how they feel.
There are some children who absolutely want to devote themselves to one thing. This is appropriate if they still have time to be kids. Kids should only have one parent-installed activity at a time. This is defined as an event (piano, language education, arts) that we need them to do in order to be cultured. This does not include school work which is mandatory for all to succeed.
A better rule of thumb is a day free per day scheduled, regardless of whether it is parent- or child-inspired. Plan family meals on the free days. Plan game time or reading time as a family. Be present with them as they are only 4-12 years old once. You do not get a do-over.
Based on this belief, I find that when I go to my kids events, I choose to watch the games and meets. At practices, I run or read to make the time productive. This allows me to be with them after practice in a present way. It also helps me to stay balanced. Our family has events on three days during the week. Weekend events are intermittent. We are able to have home cooked family meals at least 4 days a week. (thanks to my wife) I find this to be imperative and such a joy to connect.
We are all acutely aware of our children and our goals for them. Temper your authoritative plans and look to a 1:1 ratio of schedule to play time. Kids really need to be kids.
They will learn and succeed best when they are: (in no apparent order)
1) Nourished with whole, natural and real food
2) Allowed to sleep adequate amounts nightly
3) Encouraged and allowed to run and play until tired
4) Loved unconditionally
5) Taught that they are in control of THEIR destiny and mistakes are ok while desire and effort rule the day
6) Encouraged to find THEIR passion
7) Allowed to succeed and fail as the events of the day dictate
8) Believed in
9) Unfettered by chemicals (which affect neurologic function)
10) Hydrated with water
For the parents: You do not need to give up your life for your children! If you follow the 1:1 ratio, you should be able to find balance for yourself. Free time should exist for all.
Balance is always the key to happiness and longevity of spirit.
Trying to practice what I preach!
Dr. Chris Magryta is a physician at Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org