How Many Kids Are REALLY Over Scheduled?

Raise your hand if you’ve worried about how much your kids do in a given year and if you are ruining their lives. Come on – you over there. As soccer season kicks off and schedules get busier, it’s a common concern. Joel Maners passed on a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that debunks the common belief that our kids are over scheduled:

we have some data about how kids spend their hours. In recent years, researchers from the University of Maryland have analyzed findings from the continuing Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which documents children’s time use. They found that teens spend 30 of their weekly 168 hours in school. With the 12- to 18-year-old set sleeping 65 hours per week (a little more than nine a day), that leaves 73 hours for other things. Homework took up a mere 4.9 of these hours (about 42 minutes a day), and sports 3.9 hours. “Organizations” (like youth groups) filled 1.2 hours.

These are, of course, averages. Some children spend more time playing sports or doing homework, but some do less, too. Joseph Mahoney, an education professor at the University of California, Irvine, estimates that about 40% of children aren’t involved in any activities.

Emphasis mine. You’d think by now most of us would be used to the over sensationalism of our media today. Those of us with soccer players, especially travel soccer players, put our kids at huge risk every time we put them in a car to go somewhere. Yet many parents fear kidnapping or assault by a stranger the most, something about as likely to happen as getting hit by lightning. All because of these individual horror stories the media latches on to. Many of us struggle to look at these things in terms of ‘acceptable risk‘ and instead believe a problem is rampant because something happened to someone in another state and the media latched onto it. The same holds for the idea that many kids have no down time. Yet few people actually do the math to see how much free time their kids may have, and even in extreme cases where kids are doing things non stop – that may be just what they need.

I have four children. They all play soccer (and usually basketball), and are doing or have done other activities in the past. We have family members who tell us how we’re hurting them because they do ‘too much’. There’s no question our lives are busy. Yet contrast that with summer – where they would sit and watch TV day after day if allowed. Even during school, they have time to relax and overall they seem to be having fun and staying busy. Do they groan once in a while about not being able to watch TV? Sure. But take away those activities, and you know exactly what they would be doing day after day (“Are you ready kids?” Ugh!).

All kids are different. Just like coaches are taught about ‘slanty lines‘ and challenging kids of all different athletic abilities, parents should try to do the same when assessing their own kid’s schedules. Ignore the media hype and do what seems best for your own child’s temperament and abilities.

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  1. The argument that is being made in this post authored by someone who is directly affected by the issue at hand is one that I agree with completely. While I am not a parent, I understand the desire to keep children busy. Too many times, I feel that children and teenagers throw away potential in sports or other activities to watch television. I don’t believe that a parent should push their child too hard, but they should be responsible for broadening the horizons of their offspring. I have been swimming competitively for 14 years and I feel that the sport has been of great benefit to myself even though it takes 20-30 hours of my week. Because swimming took 2-4 hours of my day, I learned time management, which has since benefited me in college. Also, I learned the values of hard work and perseverance, qualities that have also helped me through school. Even though I had the 2-4 hours a day of training, I still felt that I had enough free time to enjoy myself. When I have hours of empty time, I feel unproductive and don’t get much done, a problem I don’t think that children should have to experience. Sometimes, we focus too much on “babying” children, rather than giving them responsibilities that will end up helping them when they grow up.
    The study that was given in the post was one that was very helpful in determining that children do in fact have enough free time amongst their other activities, many of which are sports. The one thing I would caution you on is to make sure that soccer is what your children want to do. In an article I found on the news website for Channel 3- WFSB in Connecticut(http://www.wfsb.com/education/13995424/detail.html), Dr. Dorothy Stubbe of Yale warned against booking children in activites for the wrong reasons. Larry Dow, the Dean of Admissions at Trinity College, also noted that colleges would appreciate the extracurricular activities of an applicant if it was truly reflected in the prospective student. I very much enjoyed this post and the fact that it went against the norms of the media, who constantly give warnings and adverse effects on children, and promoted a proven form of increasing the childhood experience, sports.

  2. I think that this discussion is very important. Kevin has made a great point about making sure that the kids are doing things that they are passionate about. I have to say, I grew up playing sports probably even more than the most over scheduled kids now-a-days. I would go to school early to get in on the football game. Play soccer at recess, head home for baseball, bike riding, basketball, and other unscheduled practice. I would come inside for dinner and then do homework in the evening. I loved sports and that is what I did. I finally settled on soccer as my main sport and went on to play in college and professionally, even though I never played on a traveling team.
    I think that it is this unscheduled, free play that kids are missing out on most these days. My feeling is that one of the big problems with soccer in the states is that many kids do not think about playing pickup or small sided games or being creative with the sport. When kids play on their own, they learn the game in a way that coaches can never impart, they learn a variety of skills that can never be mimicked with cone drills played on finely groomed fields. They miss out on the true spirit of the game that we see in players from South America and Europe who learn the game on the streets and farm fields.

    I live in a small town that should have kids roaming the streets playing games, using parked cars and trees as goals, but I do not remember the last time that I saw even a game of whiffle ball in the neighborhood.
    I think that this may stem from the point made in the first article about parents being fearful of letting their kids go out in the neighborhood. This fear probably plays a large role in the kids getting used to being stuck inside watching TV.
    We have to kick them out of the house and let them discover their passions in the outside world. Lock the doors and set out plates of food if you need to. (just kidding) I have a 9 year old daughter who has never lived with a TV in the house and I can honestly say that she has not missed out on anything. She is not into sports like her Dad, but she is very comfortable climbing high in a tree and has found a passion for playing the cello. Last point, I think that if we foster our kids to be creative and find their passions, the scheduling will take care of itself.

  3. Just a brief statement, I think children, teens etc. are only over scheduled if they are unhappy. If a child is truely happy with what he is doing, getting decent grades and has a few hours a day with famly then he/she is doing fine. Take the signal from the child, then listen to the child and make any changes you decided will benefit the child.