Today's parents have a multitude of opportunities for enriching their children. Swim, dance, karate and gymnastics are readily available. The trick is knowing the difference between enough and too much.
The question whether a child is over-scheduled is answered by examining their quality of life. In the New York Times, Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist and the author of "The Pressured Child," asks, "Is the child getting enough sleep? Does the child have enough time to do his or her homework?" If they do then the schedule isn't too hard; however, a concern is how parents monitor the activities. Thompson points out that the real problem is parents with a high degree of control of their own schedules trying to do the same with their children's time. In the article, he says, "This leads them to make choices about after-school activities out of anxiety instead of interest in their child's well-being."
This parenting style is referred to as "helicopter parenting." A helicopter parent always directs the child's behavior and allows the child no alone time, according to Ann Dunnewold, Ph. D. in an article on Parents.com. Deborah Gilboa, M.D., founder of AskDoctorG.com explains that consequences of this can be low self-esteem, lack of coping skills, stress and a sense of entitlement. The parents want to be a part of every aspect of their child's life: socially, academically and personally.
These problems can continue into college and careers, according to Jennifer Ludden on NPR.org. A few years ago, helicopter parents were seen on college campuses getting involved in grade changes and schedules, and are now beginning to appear in the workplace. Ludden cites the example of a mother calling the human resource manager of a Denver theme park to tell him how her son should be getting more pay because of his talents.
Children's activities are beneficial if chosen by the child, with no parental micromanaging. What is important is to schedule a time to "chill." Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of "The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap," told the New York Times that "enrichment activities are perfect. They add a lot to kids' lives. The problem is, we've lost the ability to balance them with down time, boring time." They need to learn how to use resources within themselves and their environment to be creative. In the effort to create competitive Renaissance children, parents often crush time for creativity, according to Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. Creativity is key to developing cognitive skills such as problem solving, planning and self-evaluation, among others.
If parents wonder if their child is overburdened, Dr. Thompson in the New York Times article suggests parents watch carefully when they drop off or pick up their child for practice, games or performances. The child should be laughing or giggling. There shouldn't be constant dragging of feet in both directions. In the same article, Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor at Columbia University, advises being careful of negativity when the child isn't successful, or portraying the idea that excellence is the only acceptable goal.
Idle hands may be a bad thing, but overly busy ones aren't good either. As in all things, moderation is the key. Kids should have a strong say in what they are doing. Parents should listen and also step back from over-managing and allow some down time.