Social Question

hominid's avatar

When exactly did the over-scheduling of kids occur, and is there a way to reverse this?

Asked by hominid (4884 points ) February 26th, 2014

Everyone here who is at least ? years old remembers getting home from school and being outside playing and exploring until it was dinner time. If you have kids today, you’ll likely notice that there neighborhood streets are quiet after school. After school activities are scheduled, organized events (sports, the arts, etc).

Despite living in a neighborhood filled with kids, my kids are the only ones home and outside after school and on the weekends.

When did the shift to scheduled activities happen? I couldn’t find any good data on it.

Is this a reality that we’re going to have to live with, or have you seen evidence locally that people are moving to allow their kids to roam free, play, and be kids?

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38 Answers

Seek's avatar

I’m considering taking bolt cutters to the gates outside the Little League baseball fields about a mile from my house.

It’s a county-maintained park, and we’re not allowed to use the batting cages because we’re not members of Little League. That pisses me RIGHT the fuck off.

thorninmud's avatar

I wouldn’t assume that the kids aren’t playing outside because of over-scheduling. The default activity for kids these days seems to be electronic interaction. If anything, the over-scheduling seems to be the result of parents wanting to get their kids off the computer or game console. When our son was younger, we had to force him outside, otherwise it would have been non-stop Call of Duty. Compounding the problem is that all of his friends were doing the same thing. So when he did go outside, there was no one else out there.

Frankly, when I was a kid, I would rather have watched good TV than go outside and play. But that was before cable TV, and most broadcast TV was horrible crap, so I’d end up outside when nothing good was on. And I’d find my friends there too, because they didn’t want to watch the crap either. But now, there’s always something enticing to watch, or friends to engage with online.

DominicX's avatar

I don’t know when it occurred, but it does seem to be a more recent development. There’s nothing wrong with some activities—kids are often genuinely interested in these things. But my neighbor’s 10 year old son was practically on the verge of an anxiety attack because he was so over-scheduled and he was so afraid to tell his parents that he didn’t want to do some of these things anymore. It’s sad that we put so much stress on kids even at that young of an age.

There is some tendency among parents to see kids with leisure time as a recipe for disaster: failing grades, drug use, no longer on the path to an Ivy League, etc.

Though@thorninmud brings up an important point about technology. Perhaps some of these things are to make sure the kids don’t spend all day on the computer. But then again, some of the kids I know go: school—> activities—> homework—> computer—> bed. What little free time they do have is spend on the computer anyway. Would it be different if they had more time? I don’t know.

hominid's avatar

@thorninmud: “I wouldn’t assume that the kids aren’t playing outside because of over-scheduling.”

Sorry. Should have been clear. We are friendly with every parent in the neighborhood. The kids are scheduled in at least one or two activities per night. There are the seasonal sports (soccer, basketball, hockey, football), then the artistic stuff (dance, musical instruments), and the year-round pursuits (synchronized swimming, martial arts). Also, many of these kids have tutors that they see more than a couple of times per week.

Most of the parents who have more than one kid spend from 2:30pm to 9:00pm shuttling kids from activity to activity.

janbb's avatar

My kids were kids twenty years or so ago. They did have some weekly activities such as Rec Soccer and Hebrew school, but there was unscheduled time for outdoor play as well. They did want to play Nintendo a lot too and since I didn’t let them get it when they were youngish, that’s what they wanted to do when they went over to a friend’s! But there was a lot of time spent running around outside with the local rat pack.

While there was certainly pressure on kids in that period to participate in activities and to excel at school, I think it has developed much more within the last 15 – 20 years.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My kids had no scheduled activities. They weren’t interested. They were outside all the time.

jca's avatar

Recently, on the news they had a program about the anniversary of the disappearance of Etan Patz. He disappeared from the street in Greenwich Village about 35 or 40 years ago. They said that before that, all kids played outside all the time. After that, kids were not felt to be safe playing on the street any more.

For me, we don’t yet have any after school activities. My daughter takes dance class and in the summer, for two years, she took swimming lessons. She has Daisy Scouts (Girl Scouts) about every two -three weeks, on a Friday afternoon.

I don’t think I’ll have her overloaded with lessons. She may have one or two activities each year but that’s it. I’m not going to overload her. So for me, “is there a way to reverse this?” can be answered by the parent just not being over-zealous with scheduling of activities.

Dutchess_III's avatar

If she enjoys it she’s not over-scheduled. I had one daughter who just hated all activities. Tried to put her in ballet, she complained that it made her sweat. She was in swimming for a while, and she was very, very good, but she hated the competition.

My other daughter, though, loved it. Thrived on it.. She was in gymnastics for 3 years. She went Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. Every night, on the night before gymnastics practice, she was as excited as though it were Christmas the next day.

Cruiser's avatar

I dunno…I was in Cub Scouts, played little league, took piano lessons. Just as much as my own kids did. The only difference is kids today do not go out and play nearly as a I did as a kid. They are now glued to the computer or game console almost as much as their dad. I need to get outside more….

longgone's avatar

I don’t think it’s possible to put a timestamp on this phenomenom – I imagine it varies greatly, depending on your area and social circle.

To be honest, I’ve never understood why being outside until dinner is supposed to be so beneficial. Fresh air is great, yes…but I think nostalgia plays into this quite a bit.

I agree, however, on that children need free time to play without adult supervision. Lots of it. An activity every afternoon is way too much, in my opinion. As to whether it’s possible to reverse this problem: I hope so. I dream of schools which encourage free learning, far away from desks and blackboards.

Sad story: I tutor kids. One of my students used to go to piano lessons, as well as playing tennis. She just dropped both, even though she loved them. Do you think that’s so she can have more free time? Nope. Dad decided her school work was suffering. She now goes to not one, but three tutors.

hominid's avatar

@longgone: “To be honest, I’ve never understood why being outside until dinner is supposed to be so beneficial. Fresh air is great, yes…but I think nostalgia plays into this quite a bit.”

The over-scheduling manifests in a this eerie phenomenon (quiet, empty streets with nobody home). Whether or not there is something beneficial to being outside, active, and independent is likely another question altogether. But I would argue that nostalgia plays no role in evaluating the benefits of allowing children to engage in independent active play outdoors. But that’s for another discussion.

Juels's avatar

My daughter has a busy schedule. For us, it is about getting into college and applying for scholarships. It has become very competitive. Having good grades isn’t enough anymore. Colleges want well rounded students that become involved in activities (sports, clubs, community, etc.).

In the long run, all this running around will pay off. On the plus side, my child never has time to get into trouble and her activities keep her physically fit and mentally active.

janbb's avatar

I think there is a great deal of paranoia? legitimate fear? about letting kids be outside and unsupervised these days. It is hard to know whether there is really that much more danger or just more publicity but I feel that kids are sheltered too much.

hominid's avatar

@janbb: “paranoia? legitimate fear?”

It’s true. It’s difficult as a parent to figure out when a legitimate fear or concern becomes irrational paranoia. We all struggle with that.

longgone's avatar

@hominid “But that’s for another discussion.”
I’d be interested in that. I’m not quite sure what I’d ask, yet. If I can figure it out, I’ll start a new thread.

Dutchess_III's avatar

“I’ve never understood why being outside until dinner is supposed to be so beneficial…” We weren’t just sitting, breathing in the fresh air. We were running, climbing, exploring, smoking sting weed and creating things.

longgone's avatar

@Dutchess_III And all that is important, sure. I’d hate to see children inside all day. On the other hand…running, climbing, exploring and creating is exactly what adults would benefit from, too. We’ll leave out the smoking for now ~ Hardly any of us do these things in all our free time. Except for the smoking.

As a kid, I was outside quite a bit. I also loved playing at home, though. My friends, sisters and I built forts, ships and caves. We turned into animals, detectives, homeless children, pirates, monsters, dragons and gangsters. That’s just off the top of my head. My point is: Not all time spent playing inside is worthless. I realize no-one on this thread has suggested that, of course.

Dutchess_III's avatar

We did those things too on rainy days.

hominid's avatar

@longgone: “Not all time spent playing inside is worthless. I realize no-one on this thread has suggested that, of course.”

Of course, nobody would argue that. I have problems with indoor play as well. But that seems to be related to the structured, scheduled nature of kids’ existence in my town. My kids’ favorite toys can be found in the recycling bin. My kids are always building some ridiculous contraption. We always have to have a stocked supply of duct tape available. They will spend more time and have more fun with building stuff from recycling and boxes than the actual toys they own. But when some of the kids from their class have come over to play, they immediately ask where our tv and video game console is. They are terribly disappointed, and seem genuinely incapable of engaging in creative, independent play.

Anyway, but outdoor time is important because in general kids spend way too little time outside as it is. School recess is shrinking, and combine it with the activities, kids are able to exercise and explore the outdoors so little. When my kids are in the yard (it’s a small yard that has a stream running through the back), they are making up all kinds of creative games, making mud pies, digging for worms, and getting exposure to fresh air and dirt. And we don’t go outside and direct them in their play or their relationships with each other.

EDIT: I just want to point out that the eerie quiet also feels lonely. If we don’t also sign up my kids for activities, all of their time engaging with other kids takes place in school.

longgone's avatar

@hominid “My kids are always building some ridiculous contraption.”
Exactly, that’s what I mean. What a shame your kids don’t have anyone to share that with.

My sisters and I were fortunate enough to each find 1–2 friends who played like we did. We had zero interest in watching TV when spending time with them…and as to exercise outside – our dogs took care of that.

creative1's avatar

I think it started in the late 80’s as a way of keeping the kids so busy that they didn’t have time of their own to do drugs and get into trouble. But that is just my opinion on it

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Outside those that are sedentary do to the fact it is more entertaining than to be outside, with maybe a few other, to be on the computer and in front of the TV. It is hard to eat while playing a pickup game of Basketball. Fold in the fact that parents are convinced if their child is a ”free range child” they will get snatched up for some person evening of pleasure. Plus, structured events serve as a de facto babysitter since people have to work so late these days.

creative1's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central You make some great points there….

hearkat's avatar

I suppose that when the economy started shifting so that both parents had to earn paychecks, it became necessary for the kids to have activities after school.

In addition, the evolution of “keeping up with the Joneses” expanded from how green we got the lawn, and how shiny we buffed the car, to how many awards Junior has.

Then, with the astronomical increases in college tuition and athlete’s salaries, many were hoping to hit the genetic lottery and have a kid at least get a “full ride” scholarship, if not a big-league contract.

Juels's avatar

That’s not necessarily true. With both of us working, it is difficult for us to arrange pick up and drop off schedules for my daughter’s practices and meetings. Not to mention all the games, performances, and ceremonies that we attend. (Just last night we attended her NHS induction ceremony.) It would be so much easier if she just went home after school. Tonight, I have to pick her up from pom practice (last of the season, yea!) and then go back out to her French horn lesson.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think maybe it coincides with the demise of the stay-at-home Mom. I think parents started feeling guilty that they weren’t there 24/7, so they tried to make up for it by running themselves, and their kids, ragged after work/school.

hominid's avatar

@Dutchess_III: “I think maybe it coincides with the demise of the stay-at-home Mom.”

It’s nearly impossible to get your kids to and from these scheduled events if both parents are working. It is certainly easier for all of the families I know where the mother is not working.

Dutchess_III's avatar

All the programs I know of are set up to be after school / work hours or on week ends. Granted, you may have to get home from work and not even have time to change before you run out the door for soccer practice, but it IS scheduled for after standard 9–5 work hours.

My only point was, after Moms started working, the term “spending quality time with your kids” came into use. I think a lot of parents read that to mean rush rush rush, run run run. I took it to mean just hang out and interact with them. Which I did.

Dutchess_III's avatar

PLUS you know what your schedule is before you sign the kids up for stuff.

hominid's avatar

@Dutchess_III – True, things changed once nearly everyone switched to a household with 2 working parents. But I was just pointing out that in my town, your kid needs to get to syncro by 3:30pm, soccer practice by 4:00pm, etc. Many of the weekday activities require a parent to either be home or to have a flexible schedule.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Growing up I didn’t know anyone who was scheduled for this or that after school. Not one single friend. I remember Mom enrolling me in ballet once, but it only lasted a few weeks.

hominid's avatar

Yep. It’s crazy here. Many of these parents talk about these after school activities as though there is nothing else that humans could possibly do. This is not to mention the fact that nobody is home during any school vacation throughout the year because they are all away. I’m sure vacations are fun (and I sometimes wish that we were away). But it surprises me that these people bother spending $500k+ on houses they only use to sleep in or store all of their useless shit.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I went out for track and volleyball in HS, but it was no strain on my parents. They didn’t have to get me there and back. I just walked.

Coloma's avatar

My daughter was born in 1987 and I’d say the over scheduling of kids was in full swing in the early to mid 80’s. Something I never agreed with.
Our society over glorifies busyness and workaholism and I agree, as a child of the 60’s most of us came home to a mother and all the free time we wanted after school.
I believe kids should not be scheduled every waking moment, that, ( in an ideal world ) they should be able to come home to their homes after school, have a snack, play, unwind, not be stuck in extended day or at various activities until the dinner hour.

They should not be drug from their beds when they are sick and dumped at the babysitters or forced to go to school when sick and tired to accomodate the parents bust schedules.
I felt very strongly about this when raising my daughter and was lucky to be able to stay home and not have to work during her younger years.
I also opted out of the re-school pressure.

Small children do not need to be put in preschool under the age of 4.
It is easy enough to find play dates with other kids at that age.
My daughter is very bright and I spent a lot of time engaging her in learning activities as a small child but I refused to feel pressured by our cultures rabid insanity to be constantly busy and productive.

Human beings not human doings.
Nothing wrong with enjoying plenty of unstructured being time IMO.
I think a lot of it also has to do with parents egos and their need to promote their kids as reflections/extensions of their own competitive drives and fears of inadequacy as parents.
My daughter was free to pick and choose what SHE wanted to do without pressure from me.

hominid's avatar

@Coloma: “I think a lot of it also has to do with parents egos and their need to promote their kids as reflections/extensions of their own competitive drives and fears of inadequacy as parents.”

I think you nailed it. I have heard parents many times talk about their very young kids and their plans for college. A third grade girl needs many hours of math tutoring per week because, “she’ll never get into [insert ivy league school here] with those math skills”. Third grade.

Juels's avatar

My daughter picked each of her activities. We never forced her to join or participate in something she didn’t want. My only rule was that you finish what you start. If I’m putting my money and time into her activity, then she has to see it through. I’m sure there are plenty of overbearing parents that don’t give their child a choice. I’m just pointing out that not every kid with a full schedule was pushed/forced into it.

Schedules for these things don’t always fall outside of the 9–5 work day. Most sport practices are immediately after school (3:30–5:30). During summer and winter break, she normally has practice in the morning or early afternoon. This portion of the schedule is really hard for us since we work year round. Thank goodness we have extended family that is able to help. We, also, do our fair share of carpooling.

My daughters full schedule is a hardship for us in both time and money. However, we would do just about anything to ensure that her future has options. Having good grades, strong activities and a clean record will open many doors for her future. We see her time in high school as her resume for college or whatever career she chooses. I don’t think you should push your child into things, but encouragement and support go a long way.

jca's avatar

When I was little, in the early 70’s, I had Brownie’s and dance class after school (first thru third grade). I used to walk there, as my mom was a single, working mom.

Now I have a child who is almost seven. We live in an area and a society where 6 and 7 year olds do not walk anywhere alone. If one did, they would probably get picked up by the cops and Child Protective Services would be called. I am also a single, working mom. My daughter has dance class on Saturdays, where she is driven, and Girl Scouts on an occasional school day, on site at school, and then she is taken to the after school program, also on site, at school.

If there were to be any practice of any kind (i.e. soccer) it would be around 3 or 3:30, when I could not take her. I would have to rely on friends or neighbors to take her.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I remember walking to a convenience store when I was 5. I had to cross a two lane, fast highway to get there.

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