Instruction & Curriculum

The Value of Boredom: Overscheduled Kids and the Destruction of Childhood

A common conversation among parents:
“What fall sport is Sara playing?”
“Oh, y’know, the usual. Sara plays field hockey from 3:30-5:30 Monday through Thursday, with games on Fridays. She takes piano lessons Tuesday evening, and voice lessons on Thursdays. On Monday and Wednesday nights, she sees her math and English tutor. We leave the weekends low-key with dance classes on Saturdays. Sundays are reserved for Youth Group outings.”
This is the reality for many of today’s students in the United States.
As our children become increasingly over-scheduled, their education and wellbeing suffers. Click To Tweet
The Average Student Today
In America, perhaps the land of educational freedoms, parents and even our children themselves feel as if we need to do more, be more, excel more, to be considered “successful,” “well-rounded,” “a team player,” and prepared for the “real world.”
Take the average student today: she attends school for seven hours a day, may be assigned up to three hours of homework a night (depending on grade level), and is involved in extra-curricular activities. Add into this figure the amount of time it takes to commute from home to each of these places, and back, the time it takes to prepare for each event, and the fact that many older teens also hold part-time jobs.
How are they doing it all?
Newsflash: They Aren’t!
An over-scheduled child, regardless of age, is not getting ahead of others. He is not becoming a more successful, well-rounded person. He’s starting to flail; maybe even fail.
Even when the easy math is calculated, it’s easy to see that we are not leaving enough time in the day to adequately do any of these activities well. Soccer equipment is left in the back of the car, school assignments are only partially completed, the piano song was never practiced before the next lesson, and families feel rushed, constantly.
The Guilty Parent
Parents today, more so than past generations, find it important to provide the best for their children and to ensure that they have what the parent may not have experienced at the same age. Parents also look at other families and commonly see the same thing: everyone is rushing to and from events, waiting in the car line behind 21 other navy blue minivans, chatting about how the coaches treated junior, the enrollment fee for the travel sports team, and the amount of homework teachers are assigning.
I can’t help but want to yell, STOP! Look at what you’re doing to your son and daughter! Look at what you’re doing to yourself! With each subsequent day spent out, the likelihood that family relationships and values will hold are shattered to the ground more quickly than a falling glass vase!
Simply stated, children know what they spend the majority of time doing. If the child is with peers, being toted from one intramural activity to another, being dragged away from homework assignments, and being delivered to school tired, hungry, and drained, the impetus of what is important is NOT placed on celebrating the individualities of the child, or on the importance and strength of a family. We are teaching our children they “are in constant need of self-improvement, that they need to always need to learn new skills. And that’s undermining the child’s self-esteem. Good intentions aside, (parents) think they need to always self-sacrifice their time and money for the better development of their child,” however, that is not what the child is learning in an overscheduled routine. (Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, WebMD).
The Result?
Everything and everyone suffers due to insufficient time and inattention to detail. Homework is skipped, children are tired during the school day, they are not receiving the proper nutrition, they’re nurturing the ability to stay busy, beginning to question whether or not they are enough, instead of developing the intra- and inter-personal skills required to truly be a mover and a shaker in today’s adult world.
And yet, somehow, most adults are surprised?
How often have you heard an adult comment on the lack of a child’s personality, responsibility, care for others, or inability to connect with others? For me, it’s too many to even quantify. If we teach our children simply to “be involved,” “be busy,” we are truly missing the mark to help teach our children how to know others, and even more importantly, know themselves – well.
Some believe that if their children are not involved in sports or clubs outside of school, they will inevitably be looking at a screen. While this may be true, the obligation needs to be put on the parents to set and enforce restrictions on screen time and the embrace alternatives for how to spend free time. Parents need to be responsible and equip their children with the ability of how to safely use technology and to know boundaries for technology use.
Ways to Break Free From the Overscheduled Routine:
-Schedule 1-2 nights per week where no one is involved in activities outside the home.
-Create and enforce screen-free zones or times. Even starting with an hour per evening is a start!
-Make family dinners a priority. Allow the children to participate in preparing the food; if children are old enough, assign them a night where they must prepare for the family!
-Read with your child. Toddler or teen, shared literature ignites the strength to form a strong relationship. Read to your child or WITH your child. With older children, form a family book group and all read the same book and celebrate the conclusion with a movie night, pizza night, or family outing.
-Start and share a hobby together: crafting, photography, bowling, painting, baking, hiking.
-Invest in family discussions. There are many board games sold which revolve around questioning the other players. Use this to learn something about each other and have fun while doing it, and ultimately to ignite conversation!
-Volunteer together- hospitals, food shelters, churches, charities.
-Allow alone time; allow your children to be bored. In the periods of “boredom,” is where a person will truly learn something about themselves.  They are free to think, dream, create, and in these moments, true beliefs, personality strengths, and values will be cemented.
While the attention is on the requirement for children to have unstructured free time, of course, there is a time and place for structured activities. While learning how to play and work with others and to build social skills is important, often the cost associated with team sports and clubs keep low-income families from participating. Here are some ideas that are offered free or for a little charge (some have scholarships for low-income participants) in many communities across the US.
Free or Low-Cost Activities for Children:
-Community Public Library (Story Times for children and adults of all ages, Discussion Groups, Movie showings, Free use of Technology, Free Play Groups, etc…)
-Boys/Girls Clubs of America
-Community Recreation Centers
-School Formed Clubs
-Peer Tutoring Groups (Often available at all middle and high schools, and advertised at many public libraries)
One way for today’s parents to put an over-scheduled child’s routine is perspective is to think about an adult who has a résumé that lists numerous jobs, and only staying at each one for short periods of time. The first question anyone asks when seeing this is, “What can this person do well?” Consider this question and the implication it has on your child.
As stated earlier, there is a benefit from having a small number of extra-curricular activities planned. Just consider how much each time takes and the ultimate goal. Remember to be sure that the goal is shared between the child and the parents. When an activity becomes a strain to the child, there is no longer any benefit. On average children should be involved in one extra activity per week, but not more than three activities per week, to ultimately harness the positives attributes to participate in a structured group or activity.
Allow your child to be bored. Click To Tweet

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