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Your Kids Don't Need To Do So Much, Says NYT

Nurturing a child's interests is great. But you don't have to nurture them all - or all at once.

In our household we have fairly strict limits on how many activities our kids are allowed to participate in at once, but it was different when my two oldest boys, now 11 and 13, were preschool- and early-elementary-aged. Back then I felt a lot of pressure to “expose” them to many different kinds of activities, and we spent our days driving from art lessons to karate to baseball to piano lessons. It was not only a serious drain on the family budget, but it also turns out that I don’t relish living in my minivan and actually cannot be in two places at once.  When every day is booked solid until 8 or 9 PM, there’s little time in there for eating a good dinner or just hanging out at home, both things my family enjoys.

But I admit I’ve wondered sometimes – if my kids are home cracking wise around the dinner table while all the other kids are off learning tae kwondo, figure skating, gymnastics, and guitar  – will my kids get “left behind”? Are the kids who take part in all those activities more likely to wind up happier, richer, or more well-rounded?

Probably not, says a recent article from the New York Times, so we parents can probably stop worrying about it (or re-mortgaging their homes to pay for those golf lessons.) From the article:

On a recent National Public Radio program, Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, said he and another economist could find no evidence that that sort of parental choices could be correlated at all with academic success….There are certainly good reasons to offer our children some of these experiences, but there are more negative ones as well, if we rely on them to make us feel like good parents, or if we think that arming them with a myriad of skills can guarantee their later success in life.

and

The reality is that failing to give your child ballet lessons at age 6 probably has not deprived her of a career as a prima ballerina.

and

In some cases, it’s hard for children to join sports teams at 12 if every other child has been playing since, say, age 5. But many of us will pick up skills and, yes, even passions, well into our adult years that never manifested themselves when we were younger.

One question the article does not answer is this: how much is too much? How much is enough? But like most things, I’m guessing the answer depends on your family. Some parents and kids really seem to thrive on a go-go-go schedule, and some kids – albeit, let’s be honest, a very small percentage – are so musically or athletically or artistically gifted that the sacrifice of free time is worth it to bring out those gifts.

And then there are the rest of us: those whose kids are bright and talented, but unlikely to play professional sports or win a full-ride scholarship to an Ivy League school based on participation in the local Junior Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar. In those cases, it’s nice to know that research seems to support this idea: your child has plenty of time to explore her interests (i.e. it doesn’t all have to happen in the elementary-school years) and, if a few things slip through the cracks, chances are good she’ll still be happy and successful – and will have plenty of chances to pick up new skills later in life.

Do your kids take part in a lot of activities? Or do you limit the number of “extra-curriculars” they can do at once?

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