Summer’s over, and it’s back to the grind. The joys and agonies of getting our kids up and off to school on time, the challenges of getting breakfast on the table and remembering homework before we scurry off our separate ways. Our children go off to school, and most of us punch the timecard. It’s already exhausting, and we haven’t even gotten to the after-school programming.
What does your child’s afternoon look like? Do they go to aftercare or have extracurricular activities? What about the weekend? Soccer leagues, silks classes, tae kwon do … the list could go on and on. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a staunch advocate for immersing children in all of these activities, but I ask you to consider your long-term goals for your child. In a perfect world, what does their adult life look like?
The Harvard Graduate School of Education released the results of its study on how to raise ethical, respectful children as part of the Making Caring Common project. The project is aimed at teaching kids to be kind. Five of the tips are 1) spend quality time with children, 2) let kids see a strong role model and mentor in their parents, 3) teach children to care about others, 4) encourage children to practice appreciation and gratitude and 5) teach them to see the bigger picture. Nowhere in this list does it cite proficiency in the arts, sports or languages.
Of course, there are wonderful aspects about these activities. Sportsmanship, second-language acquisition, dance and music all help develop the brain and increase social skills like cooperation and coordination. The missing piece in this story is the question of how many activities are too much. Where does the family unit, and your parental sanity, factor into this equation? If your long-term goal is to raise well-rounded children, I encourage you to consider the idea of letting them and yourself off the hook.
How many adults work a full day and then, knowing we love the organization we volunteer for, dread having to go out at night for a meeting? Go on. Admit it. We love what it does for our community, but another meeting at night can beat us to the punch. So, why do we over-commit our children?
At the end of the day, after working eight hours, we’re tired. Our kids are tired, too. School is their job. There is an exorbitant amount of pressure in school, even with fun hands-on activities. At the end of the day, homework is still one more thing to finish before bedtime. The skill of calmness is as important as time management and knowing our own likes and dislikes. Does your child know how to handle being bored? When there are no classes and their homework is done, what will they do? The answer to this question should not be ‘play on a tech device.’
I love tech in moderation. It’s an integral part of our world, and surely our children need to know how to use it proficiently. But, iPhones and Xboxes keep our kids merely busy. When many of us were growing up, children played outside with friends. We played pretend or role-played jobs and scenarios that developed our relationships with others. Where is that in your child’s day? Where in your schedule of activities are you engaging and interacting with your children as a family? Board games, cards, movie night, exercising together: these interactions require little money or effort. They do require all of us — our children and our partners — to catch our breath, let ourselves off the hook and try being bored.
There will come a time when your child moves and starts their career and you aren’t there. Sure, they’ll make friends, but that takes time. In the meantime, do they have the skills to self-entertain or be okay with being bored? When they have to endure circumstances out of their control, do they have the skills to slow down and gain perspective? Don’t underestimate the power of boredom. It plays an important part in the equilibrium of all our lives, in combination with physical wellness, mental agility and the ability to communicate and get along with others. Advocate for you and your child — it’s OK if you’re not always busy. You will all be better for it.