Healthy Kids     Early Education     K-12    

Child Behavior: Are we overscheduling our children?

Many professionals believe we are doing too much for our children

Kids become more confident in their skills when they do things on their own.  

All parents share the same goal for their children; to help them grow and develop the requisite skills to become an independent autonomous adult. 

However, today many professionals believe we are doing too much for our children and inadvertently curtailing these two desired developmental tasks. 

The belief is that many of today’s parents are either structuring a barrage of activities for their children with independent play being sacrificed, or doing things for their children that their children should be doing for themselves. 

Rather than changing from their school clothes and running out to play, today’s kids check their text messages, e-mails, social media, or the family planner to access their “daily schedule.” 

If your family’s date calendar on the kitchen refrigerator looks like a spread sheet for a corporate takeover, and your family’s planning and connections for the day are reminiscent of an episode from “Mission Impossible,” maybe you are pushing your kids too hard and doing too much for them! 

The warning Dr. David Elkind issued to us over 30 years ago in his landmark work “The Hurried Child” (developed today into the “Hurried Child Syndrome”) was clear. The pressure to grow up fast and to achieve early and continuously has become a fabric of middle class America. 

Elkind relates that we have no room today for “late bloomers,” children who don’t achieve success early or high enough are looked at as inept. The prevailing belief has become: “If my child has trouble doing it himself, I’ll do it for him.” 

It is falsely believed all failure and anxiety should be alleviated or removed at all cost or the child’s self esteem will suffer. Most parents have the best of intentions in offering the multitude of activities their children engage in, they are attempting to offer their child anything while also shielding them from failing. As one mother put it, “You want your child to have everything you never had and not experience the hardships of growing up.” 

Parents want their children to have rich happy childhoods, not recognizing that many children are reacting to this “overbooking” with adult levels of stress as well as feeling that they should be rewarded for anything they do. 

This push for success has made “parenting the most competitive adult sport” says Alvin Rosenfeld, a psychiatrist and author of “The Overscheduled Child.” 

He says we are trying to professionalize childhood and that today there is no world that is solely a child’s world. There is no place in a child’s life where the adults haven’t intruded or assisted. 

Although there is no total agreement among experts about “how much is too much,” there is concern among professionals that there are real and potential problems in a number of child development areas. 

Many educators and psychologists are concerned that schedules and supervision and parent involvement have frequently replaced spontaneity and autonomy. These rigid regimens and the high expectations for children are producing passive and pressured kids. 

Those “hurried children” may be forgetting how to have fun, and are also losing their creativity along the way.

This goal of parents to elevate self-esteem by developing well rounded Renaissance children who engage in many areas may inadvertently be preventing their children from achieving mastery in an area of choice: their choice! 

Kids become more confident in their skills when they do things on their own. Family relationships also appear to be damaged by running from one scheduled activity to another. There is no down time. As one critic put it, “There isn’t much room for the flow of life, those little moments when things happen spontaneously. There isn’t room for family down-time, time to relax” — that lazy alone time when ideas about self can blossom. 

As parents, the greatest gift we can give our children is our time, not more lessons. 

Paul Schwartz, PhD., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College.     

Other articles by Paul Schwartz