The Washington Post recently received a letter from concerned grandparents who felt like their grandchildren were involved in far too many activities. In its response (July 16), the Post attributed this overly hectic lifestyle to the entrance of women into the workforce (see article on page 19 of this issue), beginning in the 1970s. Back then, day-care wasn’t as readily available, so moms had to find sitters or let kids stay home alone.
Another solution was to give kids a packed activity schedule. “Parents, who had once enrolled their children in one or maybe two after-school classes a week and let them join a team around age 8, were now signing them up for every activity they could, as soon as they could, to keep them safe and supervised.
“By now busyness is such a habit that children are on the go all the time, and if there are any minutes to spare, they usually spend it with a tutor, in front of the tube or with a video game. Unfortunately, this has made many children rely on the imagination of others, instead of their own.”
As usual, the media’s analysis of the effect was quite good. But addressing the cause of the problem is where they always drop the ball. There was nary a hint of suggestion that perhaps the mother of the children should stay home. Endless activities are no substitution for motherhood.
Author Kay Hymowitz says there is another reason parents might be loading up on scheduling activities for their children—because they want them to be high achievers. While this is a worthy objective, she explains, there is a danger in going overboard. Putting them on a hyper-schedule can leave little or no playtime and fewer opportunities for creativity. Too many structured activities as a child can actually hurt, not help, their ability to concentrate. It can also just plain wear a child out.
To be sure, children need structure and discipline, and some activities outside the home can help with this, like music lessons or perhaps a sporting event—but not so much that the activities become a substitute for loving parental supervision during an abundance of playtime.
Children are, after all, children.