Have you noticed that modern parenting advice seems to carry a tone of urgency? From the time kids are toddlers, parents are told that they must prepare their children for the future. The message is “If you don’t get your child into the right school and “enrichment” activities, your child is very likely to fall hopelessly behind.” So basically, your kids will be under-achievers and it will be your fault.
This is based on the false assumption that if a child does something earlier than peers, he will continue to keep that lead. A child who excels at a sport in elementary school will stick with it and eventually be a superstar. The child who learns how to read early will score highest on the verbal SAT in their teens, thereby getting into the right university, meet the right people and have the right kind of life. Not true.
As parents, we desperately want to do what’s best for our kids and are willing to do what it takes to give our children the best possible shot at success in life. However, by focusing on activities, we are missing the mark on what kids really need.
What a kid really needs is:
- Parents who are interested in them as a person.
- Parents who give their kids periods of undivided attention everyday.
- Parents who are not exhausted or in a bad mood all the time.
- Parents who focus on values, not only accomplishments.
I think we also need to focus on the negative effects of “enrichment” activities on the parents.
Every school year, I hear from parents who describe the hours of 3 pm to 9 pm on weekdays as “nonstop.” They describe weekends where they barely see their spouse because they are too busy shuttling their children to birthday parties, sports and music lessons. One woman admitted that she was glad she had to reduce her children’s activities based on financial limitations because it made her feel less guilty.
Over-scheduling turns parents into stressed out chauffeurs who observe their kids more than they interact with them. We feel disconnected from spouses, kids and friends because there is no “down time” to relax together.
Even if you can afford to enroll you child in a myriad of activities, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. The next time you are about to enroll your child in another enrichment activity, consider the total cost–to your wallet and your well-being. Is it worth it?