Are You Over-Scheduling Your Child?

Over-scheduling may be overrated

A heavy roster of activities won’t guarantee that a child will get into college, experts say.

BY LISA DAVIS
McClatchy Newspapers

Soccer. Gymnastics. Dance. Piano. French Club. Science Olympiad. Required community service. Homework. Tutoring. Therapist. When did family life become one giant to-do list? For decades, experts have been warning that children are overbooked. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued reports on the dangers of over-scheduling:

Young children deprived of playtime are missing an essential element of their cognitive, physical, social and emotional development.

Preteens who specialize in one sport risk burnout and an increased risk of injury.

High school students pressured to beef up their resumes can suffer from depression and anxiety.

It takes a toll on parents as well, not to mention the cost to shuttle kids among all those activities.

Despite what the neighbors might say, the truth is that our kids will still get into college even if they’ve never watched a Baby Einstein video or been president of the Medieval Literature Club.

“The parents who are over-the-top, you’re never going to change,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, a child psychiatrist and author of “The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap.” “It’s about the incessant pressure on the rest of us. It’s very hard to have the inner fortitude to resist that pressure.”

The irony is that our strengths — independence, thinking outside the box, creative problem-solving — develop best when kids have time to play, to dream, to dawdle.

Getting in

As dean of admissions at Texas Christian University, Ray Brown sees evidence of over-scheduled kids.

“If you read the popular press, you read that all this over-scheduling will lead to admission at the school of your choice,” he says.

That, however, is a myth, Brown says.

“Just because you were second-team all-district in soccer, terrific for you, but that’s not going to get you into a selective college,” he says.

But — and it’s a pretty big but — it is getting increasingly difficult to get into the top 300 schools in America.And it’s becoming darn near impossible to get into the country’s top 100 schools, the really selective universities like Harvard and Rice.

“With their applicant pool, the students all look alike,” Brown says. “They all have 4.0 GPAs, all have fabulous test scores, all have taken six AP courses their junior and senior years. That’s when the resume starts taking on greater importance.”

All in moderation

It’s important to realize that sports and extracurricular activities aren’t bad in and of themselves. But moderation is key.

As Rosenfeld is fond of saying, “Parenting is a higher calling than being a cruise ship activities director.”

As an admissions dean, Brown offers this piece of advice to the Class of 2012 — well, not to the students themselves, but to their parents: “Let them be kids.”

“If you can pay attention as a parent and help them discern an interest or two, then do what you can to nurture that,” Brown says.

“I have the privilege of serving on panels with representatives from Ivy League schools. I have never heard an Ivy League representative say you have to be involved in half a dozen things and have to be president of four of them. I have heard them say, ‘Find stuff that really interests you, and make a difference.’ ”

Warning signs of stress

Young children and teens who feel overpressured can develop classic signs of stress: anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, unexplained stomach aches, avoiding school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a Web site — www.aap.org/stress — where teens can set up a personalized stress-reduction plan.

Parents can check out resources and read excerpts from two AAP books, “A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens” and “Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond.”

© 2007 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansas.com

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