Debate: Are our kids doing too much?

Jen Hogan says that filling children’s every moment with activities is not the answer and will only lead toburn-out for them and parents 

The new school year is well under way and the freedom of summer seems a distant memory. Routine, school runs, homework and regular bedtimes once again make up our weekdays here — and the return of some of these things is more welcome than others.

My email inbox is overflowing, my phone pings constantly with text reminders, and every day a different note arrives home from school with yet another potential afterschool activity. The possibilities are endless and the options hold great appeal for several of the children — but in spite of this it won’t be a “whatever takes your fancy” when it comes to the number of activities that my children will engage in. And that’s not solely down to the lack of a money tree in my back garden.

Experience has taught me that doing it all and endless options are not necessarily the best things when it comes to afterschool activities. When my first child started school, as in so many other aspects of her life, she was my guinea pig. In those day I had a more typical sized family and as the endless opportunities to participate in every type of afterschool activity imaginable presented themselves, the fear of missing out took hold and I signed her up for as much as possible.

Ballet, GAA, Irish dancing, French lessons, swimming, speech and drama, choir, mini-sports and music lessons all filled her and our afternoons. Weekends were taken over with matches and training. During the week small boys were driven from A to B to C so their sister could take part in all the activities I was sure could only benefit her, while I willed a toddler not to sleep in the car en route, fearing how our night might otherwise play out. Keeping them occupied by the side of the pool and outside ballet class was a workout for me in itself.

And when she was finished we all traipsed home to face homework and dinner preparations and all that is involved in rearing a young family. Did she grow to love all that I involved her in? Not quite. She had her favourites but mostly she and the rest of us were overwhelmed and frustrated from over-scheduling.

Because sometimes less is more, and always life is about balance. Balance when it comes to afterschool activities, balance when it comes to scheduling and balance when it comes to family needs.

As my family grew and more children reached school age so too did the demands on our already very limited time. It became apparent that our younger children’s lives were revolving around the lives of their older siblings — as were ours. The demands of many activities meant that endurance rather than enjoyment was becoming the flavour of our week.

These days we’ve struck a better balance but it’s not always easy — as with any mix, different personalities have different levels of enthusiasm for various activities. One particular child would happily partake in every activity offered to him, and as is his tendency in everything he does, would give his all to each. But he like the rest of them needs downtime — time to chill, time for free-play and time to discover how to occupy himself. These are life-skills that also need to be learned That’s something we seem to have forgotten to bring forward from the “olden days” of our own childhoods when playing and games with our friends took up much of our free time. Our days weren’t scheduled for us and there was no determination to keep us busy lest we end up doing something our parents didn’t want us to do — such as the modern day fear of too much screen time.

But it doesn’t have to be an either/or. Screen time is as much an issue in this house as any, however there’s a solution. Step up to the plate and parent — your guidelines, your rules and if they’re not followed, confiscate the device! Filling their every spare moment with activities is not the answer — that’s just a one-wayticket to child (and possibly parental) burnout!

Pat Fitzpatrick argues that filling your children’s days with as many fun activities as possible is ideal for everybody — parents included

My six-year-old is 4-3 ahead of her little brother. She does swimming, gymnastics, modern dancing and Gaelic football.

He did the same until last week, when he said things about modern dancing that I can’t repeat in a family newspaper. (They start cursing very young now, don’t they?)

This is the first September we’ve really signed to up to loads of things, and so far so good. To be honest, I think there might be room for one more.

I’ve no time for nostalgia-drenched people who hark back to the time when kids were told to go outside and play with a stick.

Here’s a message from the generation of people that were sent outside to play with a stick — we’d have much preferred to go swimming. In fact, most of us would have preferred an hour of modern dance in the school hall. That’s how much we hated playing with a stick.

I know there are studies out there saying kids are over-scheduled and highlighting the importance of time for free play.

But our two kids are done with school by 1.30pm, so a few hours of running around after a ball doesn’t take a dent out of their week.

And anyway, so-called free play is often just an excuse to trash the front room. I’m still working on getting them to tidy up their own mess, but watching a four-year-old put one building block an hour back in the bag is enough to make you consider joining the Foreign Legion. At least when they go swimming, someone else gets to clean the pool.

It’s easy to get complacent about how kids spend their free time in mid September.

There is still a bit of light in the evenings, the grass is dryish, we still have a weird notion that the heatwave is going to come back next week. But as they say on Game of Thrones, winter is coming. In fairness, the Irish winter isn’t the same as being surrounded by an army of the living dead; it’s much, much worse than that.

We’re heading into months of damp, chilly weather, that will run and run until spring arrives in late July. Kids don’t play in this weather, they just complain how cold it is. It’s only a matter of time before it’s everybody back inside for some free-play time.

This is fine in theory, in that parallel universe where kids can concentrate on something for over an hour. But here, in Planet Ireland 2018, it’s only a matter of time before they’re watching The Incredibles or playing on a Kidizoom.

My kids are basically event junkies. They are addicted to looking forward to stuff, preferably stuff that’s going to happen in the next few days.

So it’s great that they’re going to play GAA tomorrow. (Not least because we can threaten not to bring them if they don’t finish their porridge.)

I know these things cost money. But not having stuff planned for a rainy day brings its own drain on finances.

We sometimes head to Mahon Point Shopping Centre on a dreary day, to get out of the house — if anyone ever got out of a shopping mall without spending at least 50 quid, I’d like to know how they did it.

It works for the parents as well. The only people I have anything in common with any more is people with kids, and it’s nice to chat to them while the kids are doing their handstands.

You might even try a bit of flirting if you’re that way inclined. (I’m not. Hi honey!) I love bringing my kids to these things. The main reason is the way they skip in the door, excited about hanging out with new friends outside of school and getting better at something, week after week.

I don’t mind the driving around, at least that way they’re not bugging me for treats.

Most of all, I’m just glad that they’re stuck out in the freezing cold, playing with a stick.


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