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Overscheduling and pressuring our kids to succeed. Is there any evidence that this works?


I live in a town of performance. Affluence. Constant activity.

I live amongst parents who start their children in sports, music, cultural, language and other academic lessons early (often, all of the above) -- sometimes before the kids are even fully potty trained.

I live in a town of hyper parents who blaze their minivans and SUVs into the Starbucks parking lot every morning, so they can caffeine up before yet another marathon day of transporting kids to activities.

I live in a town that's, sadly, just like the one you live in.

A town in which it's not the exception, but the norm, to overschedule our children in a vain effort to ensure these kids are "successful."

A town of tired people, who just know their kids have some sort of about-to-be-cultivated genius that must be uncovered, quickly.

A town of people who will sacrifice finances, sanity and the vital family bond, because they have been cultured to believe that all this damned running around is the key to their kids' future successes.

And I have a really big problem with it.

We have become a society of disconnected zombies who have collectively lost sight of what "success" even means, or how to get there. We drink the Kool-aid that the promoters of kids' sports, music, and other supplemental "must-do" after-school academic programs dish up.

"Your children deserve the very best."

"Children who begin travel soccer at age 5 have the best shot at collegiate level ball."

"You can make sure Johnny gets into AP math 10 years from now if you buy twice weekly sessions at The Math Camp."

And so on and so on and so on.

Did it occur to you that those powerful, "Better keep up with the Jones' " messages are intended to manipulate you?

Did it occur to you that there's huge, huge money in many supplemental sports, music and academic programs?

Did it occur to you that, perhaps, our children will thrive best and succeed (according to their own definitions of success) most if we give them time to dream, tinker, rest and create?

If we give them time to play outside, time to read, time to socialize with the neighbor friends?

I am absolutely not opposed to giving children access and exposure to cultural, educational and fitness opportunities. My own kids select a reasonable number of extra-curriculars throughout the year (in general, one at a time).

But I'm so grossed out by the constant societal message that the only way to ensure we're raising a generation of "performers" is to push them into a zillion extra activities, at an age that seems to keep getting younger and younger.

My own youth.

I grew up in Michigan. Every summer, the family would tote up to a small lake cottage in northern Michigan and my sister and I would stay there -- either with our parents, or our grandparents -- for the entire summer.

We did not go to summer school or attend any formal summer camps nor programs.

We played. We invented games with friends. We went on nature hikes. We swam. We roasted marshmallows. We drew pictures. We ran our little butts off, back and forth between neighbor houses.

And we thrived, both academically and athletically.

I graduated 7th in my high school class of 453. I earned varsity letters in three sports. I killed it on my college entrance exams. I captured a few scholarships.

Our family thrived, too. We thrived because we had time together. And because our parents weren't overspending in the name of molding us kids into "success stories."

So I ask anyone who is (or will one day become) a parent -- Are you overscheduling or pressuring your kids in the name of success?

And, if the kids get to that milestone of "success," will you know it? Will they? Can you even define that that word means?

Are you tired? How's your family bond? Your relationship with your spouse? With your children?

How is gleaning your children for "success" working for you?

I sincerely welcome your input on this topic.

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Reader Comments (5)

Thanks for sharing! Sounds like what your parents did worked. My son is two years old and he runs around all day playing football and chanting Rudy, Rudy, Rudy, from the movie. He's obsessed all on his own. Just like his dad.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDrew Tewell

I loved Rudy. LOVED. I'm absolutely a proponent of honoring our children's passions; it's just truly an art as a parent (and a constant battle against our cultural norms) to promote the passions while keeping the family connected and sane. :) Thanks for the note, Drew!

July 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterJenny

Jenny, great post! I think this is an important topic because I see more and more young people who seem lost when it comes to figuring out what direction to take for their careers. Instead of helping them be successful, overscheduling actually prevents them from having time to -- as I always like to say -- "percolate" on possibilities.

Additionally, I think overscheduling is definitely something we need to think about as adults as well. Recently, I needed to have surgery unexpectedly. Fortunately, it was relatively minor, but I was still forced to take time off of work, time away from my growing my coaching practice, and just rest and read (fiction, I might add). Towards the end of my recovery time, I was amazed at all the different ideas I had and new approaches to some work issues I had been stuck on. I realized I had been going, going, going without taking any time to recharge my own batteries and simply let ideas, possibilities, and thoughts simmer a little bit.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan O'Donnell

What Morgan said, times 1,000.

Thank you so much for sharing this. I agree - both kids and their parents: We can tend to become so maxed out and "auto-pilot-esque" from all the insane busy, that we struggle to find/make time to slow down and let our creative minds get down to business. I really appreciate this comment.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Great post Jenny! This is a very important subject. The staff and I have seen parents wanting their children to become over achievers yet not putting any time or effort. However over scheduling is an oversight on the parents’ part.

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