A Deep Dive into Extracurriculars
Part 1: Why we sign our kids up for all the things, and what that means for other kids.
A few months ago, I had one of those “oh shit” parenting moments after realizing I’d signed my 8-year-old up for waaaaaaaaaaaay too many after-school activities. She’d begged to play travel soccer, which held practices twice a week and had games every weekend. She was also taking piano lessons, modern dance lessons and acting classes. What was I thinking.
Some nights, it was impossible for her to get her homework done before bedtime, and she would climb into bed and start crying about how stressed she was. It was heartbreaking, and I knew we needed to make changes. We had several conversations and decided that this winter, we would ease up on activities — and we have.
The experience made me wonder: Why do many parents — mostly upper-middle and upper class parents, according to the data — sign their kids up for all the things? Is it because they think the activities will help their kids, or because their kids demand them and parents can’t say no? Do extracurriculars really provide tangible benefits, and if so, what are they? Can it be detrimental to sign kids up for too much — and if so, how much is too much?
This is a big issue, and it intersects with so many others: Privilege (wealthier parents have more access to activities for many, many reasons), sexism (moms often, but don’t always, end up being the ones organizing kids’ schedules and transporting them), and disability rights (some activities aren’t open/welcoming to kids with disabilities, neurodivergence or learning differences), among others. I’m not going to be able to dig into all these issues, but they’re all important to consider.
Because this is such a convoluted issue, I’ve decided to break my thoughts down into several installments. Today, I will address how parental investment in kids has changed over the years, what’s known about why some parents feel compelled to sign their kids up for so many things, and what research suggests in terms of how kids can benefit from them. I’ll also highlight some potential societal implications when it comes to equity. In my next installment, I’ll talk about the potential downsides of overscheduling kids, how to know if your kid is doing too much, and how to ease up. I’ve interviewed four sociologists who have studied this topic, and they have all shared enlightening insights with me. To read on, become a paid subscriber if you’re not already — I’m running a 20% off sale through December!
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