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Child Behavior: HV Parent Wonders If Our Kids Are Overscheduled

Don't load up your child with activities

Parents are structuring a barrage of activities for their children and independent playtime is being sacrificed. This month’s column will address issues that Dr. David Elkind brought up 30 years ago in his landmark work, The Hurried Child, which has today developed into the “Hurried Child Syndrome”.

Things were different

When I was a young boy growing up in the Bronx, as soon as I came home from school, I tore off my school clothes, changed into my jeans and went out to play. All was accomplished without the supervision or control by adults.

Reality check

Many professionals feel we are now doing too much for our children. Mount Saint Mary College recently hosted a screening of the documentary film, The Race To Nowhere, a film that has developed into a groundswell movement examining the stress experienced by children and adolescents as they negotiate our post modern landscape.

Rather than tearing off their school clothes and running out to play, today’s kids need to check their text messages, e-mails, or the family planner to answer the simple question, “Do you want to play?” If your family’s date calendar on the kitchen refrigerator looks like a spread sheet for a corporate takeover, maybe you are pushing your kids too hard!

Look for signs

Most problematically, psychologists are treating more children than ever before for stress related disorders resulting from over programming. The signs of over commitment or stress in childhood may be any or all of the following:

Physical problems such as headaches, upset stomachs or continued fatigue, may become common.

  • Children may also become more irritable or agitated over minor occurrences.
  • They may also lose interest in activities which they previously enjoyed and balk when it’s time to go to scheduled lessons or even to school.
  • Accelerated stress may also take the form of failing grades or even behavioral problems at school. 
  • Many educators and psychologists are concerned that rigid regimens and the high expectations for children are producing passive kids with no spontaneity. Those “hurried children” may be forgetting how to have fun and are losing their creativity along the way. 

Listen to your children

Children are by nature happy little people, frequent changes in mood are a common symptom that your child is experiencing stress. Sometimes we just need to listen to our children. As one first grader said to his mother when she questioned him as to why he refused to get on the school bus one morning he said, “I haven’t had enough play time.”

Let kids be kids

Children and adolescents, whose lives are continuously programmed, also miss out on time to day-dream which allows ideas about oneself to blossom.I am asking parents to lighten up on how hard we’re pushing our kids.We need to re-examine the importance of free play in childhood. Maybe all we need to do is revisit our childhoods and remember those wonderful, unstructured summer days or time after school, when we were “lost” in play, until we were called to come-in for dinner.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. He is available for speaking engagements to parent groups.