Are You Over-Scheduling Your Kids?

Written by K.C. Compton

With four children ages 6 to 16, Tina Vander Stel sometimes feels more like a field marshal on maneuvers than a mother.over scheduling kids

Take inventory of how your family spends its time. How many meals do you have together?
How often do you talk to your children, not just to give orders like, "Pick up your clothes or take out the trash"?
Prioritize one or two activities, eliminate those that don't make the list and stand firm.
Allow your children and yourself some unstructured time. Imaginations need to grow without structured activity.
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"It gets to be 'Looney Tunes,' " says the Denver resident. "We carpool, trade rides with other parents. I go to one kid's game, my husband goes to another, and my ex-husband will go to another. We manage to cover the bases, but we keep commenting on the fact that this is not the way we grew up."

Vander Stel and her family are not alone. Only a few years ago, Americans shook their heads in dismay at parents in Japan and China who rigidly managed their children's time and choices.

Now, those same parents try to squeeze in a quick meal between soccer practice and dance lessons and hope their sons remember their baseball uniforms so they can change clothes in the car.

"Parents talk with each other about how crazy it all is, but if you try to do something about it on your own, it won't work and your kids will pay the price. This has to be something the community bands together to work on," says Vander Stel.

"It's become a status symbol," says Barbara Carlson, one of the founders of a grassroots movement in suburban Minneapolis called Family Life 1st, an organization of families working together in their Minneapolis suburb to change community priorities. "People used to judge status by how big a house you had, or what kind of car you drove. Now it's how busy you are."

Family 1st members have created six action groups to work on raising consciousness about over-scheduling. One group goes to local schools and parent organizations to discuss how the community can work together. The communications group is developing a brochure and presentations to spread the word to "just say no" to over-scheduling. Plus they also are putting together a "seal of approval" so parents can know beforehand if a soccer organization or arts group respects the needs of families.

"One family told us their son got benched because he attended his sister's wedding," Carlson says. "Another wasn't able to go to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving dinner because there was a practice that afternoon. That's just out of control".

The group has had good cooperation from area coaches and youth organizations. And Carlson's participation has led to lifestyle changes of her own.

"This has made a huge difference in my life," Carlson says. "I took a new job a year ago that kept me from home many evenings and weekends. I realized, as I worked with Family Life 1st, that I wasn't walking my talk so I'm taking a leave to be home with my high school senior his last year with us before college. I just couldn't stand to miss all of those important times with him."

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