Between recitals, soccer practice, and other extracurricular activities, we’re overworking our children and placing unprecedented strain on our families, according to a new study in Sport, Education, and Society. In a small study of 50 families in England, researchers found that nearly 90 percent of the children surveyed took part in organized afterschool activities between four and five days per week. More than half crammed multiple activities into a single evening.
“Parents initiate and facilitate their children’s participation in organized activities as it shows that they are ‘good’ parents. They hope that such activities will benefit their children,” said coauthor on the study Sharon Wheeler of Edge Hill University in the UK, in a statement. “The reality can be somewhat different. While children might experience some of these benefits, a busy organized activity schedule can put considerable strain on parents’ resources and families’ relationships, as well as potentially harm children’s development and wellbeing.”
Although this was a small study involving a relatively homogenous subset of families in the UK, surveys suggest the trend holds across larger and more diverse samples. As of 2015, Pew Research Center indicated that most parents with school-age children in the U.S. participate in at least some form of extracurricular activity. While sports are the most common activity, many report that their children attend religious instruction, undertake volunteer work, or participate in music, dance, or art lessons after school. The wealthier the family, the more activities.
And, while it is true that such activities can give children an edge, they can also be a source of stress for families and the young athletes, musicians, and artists whom they purportedly benefit. Studies have shown that there are myriad intellectual and emotional benefits to family dinners, for instance, and children engaged in back-to-back activities tend to miss out on these boons. Tired parents, run ragged by impossible schedules, do not parent as effectively. And if schoolwork, homework, and activities result in children not getting enough sleep, there is the additional gamut of negative effects associated with sleep deprivation to contend with.
In light of these concerns, Wheeler and colleagues hope that their study will help give parents permission to dial it back a notch. “Raising awareness of this issue can help those parents who feel under pressure to invest in their children’s organized activities, and are concerned with the impact of such activities on their family, to have the confidence to plan a less hectic schedule for their children,” Wheeler says. “Until a healthy balance is struck, extracurricular activities will continue to take precedence over family time, potentially doing more harm than good.”