Oct 28, 2014, 13:57 PM by

Or, how less stuff for your kids means more time, which equals more of everything

That's bad grammar, but it offers a certain mystery, which I thought seemed cool and would hook you. "What could he mean by this?" you are saying. "I must read more!'

I am referring to our kids, all of our kids. I have three of them myself: one in university, one in high school and one in middle school. I am thinking of the youngest one as I write this. He just finished a basketball skills clinic at the Y. He seemed to enjoy it, but not love it enough to sign up for a team. So I had better just rush out there and sign him up for something else. How about joining our excellent swim team led by Olympic-level coaches (shameless plug)? Or karate? Or learning a foreign language?

But he tells me he is good to go with his once-a-week robotics club, and that is plenty.

My wife and I now need to discuss this. Should he participate in more activities? Are we failing him? What is the right amount of outside programs that kids should be involved in?

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This past year, workers in the United States took two fewer vacation days or holidays than the prior year. According to at least one study, we are one of the hardest-working countries in the world; whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but it seems logical. We are crazy working fools, but we do live in arguably one of the greatest countries in the world, full of opportunity, acceptance, diversity and tolerance. Sure, we can argue about the outliers for all of this, but they are just that, outliers, and they do not reflect the common experience in this country.

So how does this change how we consider our kids' schedules? Should we cram every opportunity available down their throats? There are two points of view here:

  • Kids are overworked and stressed out and need more down time.

  • Kids thrive when challenged, and down time leads to wasted opportunities for development.

As with any absolute, neither is correct. For most humans, the reality falls somewhere in between. If your kid is crazy about some activity, why keep them from it as long as balance is maintained? All hockey and bad grades is not good. Pulling a kid from a sport or activity they love as a punishment for bad grades is also not good.

Having a good enough relationship with your child so you can help them find a balance between what they love and school is the sweet spot.

On the other side of the coin, pushing a kid into lessons they hate or sports they don’t love and demanding that they do well in school is a recipe for a bad relationship. I get it. We can't let our kids sit around everyday and all weekend in front of a screen. However, we also can't force them into so many activities that they resent us, move 1,000 miles away and only call on the holidays.

Here is a good way to check in with your child about their extracurriculars: Ask them if they are happy. Yup, it's that simple. As a parent, do you know what they are thinking and where they are in life? If yes, then Huzzah! You have done it. If the answer is different, then something is out of balance. It may be you or them, but you do need to figure that out.

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To help your child become well rounded, you need to know them, you need to know how to talk to them and you need to understand them. And they need to reciprocate. If you and your child are so over-scheduled that you don’t ever spend time together—even if it is just sitting around in the same room doing your own thing—then you will not know what they need. Understanding only comes from time spent together. Leave enough time in the day to facilitate that time.

For this semester, our youngest will probably only do his robotics club. He doesn’t get home from school until after 4pm anyway. Then he has chores, homework and dinner which takes him until 7:30 at least (if he played with friends after school then we are at 8:30pm). How much more do we want to cram into that day?