There’s no denying the advantages of extracurriculars: on top of the numerous physical and mental health benefits, they promote hard work, discipline and teamwork, and gives our kids something to do. At the same time, extracurricular activities aren’t exactly free- not only do we pay for the activity itself and all required equipment, but we must invest our time and energy in getting our kids to their activities on time. Because of social media, there’s a ton of pressure on parents (and kids!) these days to keep up with their peers. After all, no parent wants their kid to feel left out, and we definitely don’t want to be responsible for squashing dreams or preventing our kid from reaching their true potential. When it comes to extracurricular activities, how much is too much?
The first question we should ask ourselves is whether our kids are getting enough sleep while balancing academic responsibilities, social time with friends and family, and all their extra activities that we sign them up for. Kids between the ages of three and five need 10 10 13 hours of sleep a day, while kids under 12 need between nine to 13 hours. Sleep deprivation has major negative impacts on a child’s behavior, as well as on their physical and intellectual development. So, subjecting a kid to too many activities might have the opposite effect of what you intended.
Secondly, we need to make sure that our kids have some time every day for unstructured play. It’s tempting to load up our kids’ schedules so we keep them busy and out of trouble from dawn until dusk. But multiple studies show that kids who have free time to play end up being more creative and better problem solvers than kids who don’t. Free time doesn’t mean screen time, either- sitting in front of the TV or iPad for an hour per day doesn’t have the same benefits that come from playing in the park, painting or building a city out of Legos.
In addition, extracurriculars shouldn’t come at the cost of quality family time together. Our parental responsibilities are far more extensive than playing chauffeur for our children and their activities. If a child’s extracurriculars are causing a strain on the parents- whether it's emotional or financial- then it’s time to downsize. Don’t underestimate the importance of family dinners. Studies have shown that having the whole family together for supper at least four times a week could lower teen drug use and teen pregnancy rates.
Finally- and most importantly- we need to recognize and address any signs that our kids are overwhelmed with the number of activities they have going on. Being pressured to excel in so many areas (school, sports, music, etc.) can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety in our kids. That's especially true if we keep reminding them how much we’re spending on each activity and how much time we’re sacrificing for them. If activities that are supposed to be fun are now met with tantrums or refusals to participate- or if schoolwork or relationships are deteriorating because the child doesn’t have enough energy on them- it’s time to let something go. Kids these days have enough on their plates; as parents, we need to help protect them from committing to too much.