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A dear friend asked me: Do I think our kids have it better than we did growing up?
At first, it was easy to think in terms of economics. My kids have food, clothing, and shelter. They have toys and their own bedrooms and a safe place to live. They get to go to school. We live in a “safe” area.
My kids have all the necessities and aren’t necessarily going without — even if they think they are because they don’t get everything they want.
However, my friend asked me this question in the context of “opportunities and experiences.”
We are able to give our kids so many more experiences now. They can enjoy clubs, sports, lessons and take specialized classes.
Are they better off having all of these choices?
Do they have too many?
Do kids have too much going on?
Things happen a lot faster these days
Growing up, in the 70s and 80s, there weren’t the choices there are today.
Sometimes we were without a car. How would we have even gotten to all of these places we so easily drive our kids to today?
I remember taking swimming lessons one summer. Aside from that, some girls took dancing.
Were there other opportunities? Who knows?
I went to a day camp at a park in town from 9am-12pm for a few weeks for a few summers. That’s all I did.
We had the chance to take band starting in 4th grade. There was scouting as well.
It wasn’t until middle school that there were more opportunities, but even then, they were all school-related. Depending on the season, girls could try out for volleyball, basketball or cheerleading. There was also a town softball league girls could join. But again, all of this didn’t start until sixth grade.
I’m sure it was similar for the boys. They had baseball in the elementary grades but in no way did preschoolers (and even younger) play baseball or soccer. Like the girls, boys had more opportunities in middle school, but nothing like today.
Too many activities come at a cost
It’s great our kids have these choices and options. Yet, all of this comes at a price for our kids and our families. Something has to give….
Kids know what they aren’t good at
One of the biggest differences now is with kids’ self-esteem.
Kids know who is good at what.
What if your child isn’t into sports or other extracurricular activities? Your child may now believe he/she isn’t “good at” basketball or soccer or whatever.
He knows his best friend is on travel soccer and that another friend is always picked for student council or the school play.
Your child knows who excels.
However, we adults were able to grow up without this compartmentalizing. We all learned and played these sports in gym class, practically on the same achievement level as everyone else.
No one was exceptionally “good” yet.
We grew up blissfully unaware.
Most likely, we didn’t define ourselves by our interests or feel badly about our lack of talent because we weren’t exposed to these activities.
Everyone was on a literal equal playing field.
Now kids come with experience, even in the younger elementary grades.
I’ll bet your kids can rattle off who plays what sport. They can probably tell you who is good at what activity.
We didn’t know we weren’t good enough at something until we tried out for the team in junior high or high school and didn’t make it.
Kids today start believing they “aren’t good enough” in their elementary school years.
A friend told me her middle-school-aged daughter was upset because many of her friends excel in gymnastics and dance.
Her mother was encouraging her, reminding her how talented and gifted she is in art, particularly drawing. Her daughter replied, “Yes, but no one sees that.”
This girl already understood the social commerce that is associated with a more popular, visible activity.
Kids are stressed out
Thinking in terms of opportunities and experiences, it would be easy to assume many kids (finances aside) have it better today.
However, like so many privileges, all of this comes at a cost. Kids are more stressed out than ever.
Many don’t know how to just BE without an organized activity and constant stimulation. If they aren’t doing homework, reading or going to activities, they are on electronics.
They don’t just play. Many have lost the desire and ability to just figure it out and amuse themselves.
They don’t know how to be bored.
Kids need more downtime
When is the last time your kids made up a game with a ball or cards or dice?
We did this sort of stuff all the time. Sadly, kids today don’t have time for downtime. They go to school, maybe childcare before or afterwards, they have homework, maybe some chores, and then they go to their many activities, depending on the day.
They come home from a busy day and we nag them.
By elementary school, they’ve tried t-ball, baseball, basketball, soccer. Some have ventured into lacrosse, tennis, swim teams, football, and golf.
They play chess and are on the math team. They dance, act, sing and take gymnastics, karate and private music lessons.
Practically all kids do something, and most do more than one thing. Many even learn languages.
There are so more opportunities for kids today. Just open any summer camp catalog.
There are days when my elementary-aged children have 2-3 activities after school. Having something to run off to every single day after school is too much for us sometimes, let alone multiple things.
Sadly, this harried schedule has evolved through the years to become our new normal.
Getting kids involved at an early age
It’s a reality nowadays if you don’t enroll your kids in activities early enough, they will be behind.
It’s difficult for a new-to-the-game fifth grader to start playing baseball when he/she hasn’t had experience swinging at fast pitches. Kids already have trophies lining their bookshelves by this age.
In the town we moved to, basketball teams didn’t start until third grade. Yet all of the kids showed up clearly having had experience playing and were already “good.” We know kids who earned their black belt at seven years old.
When my firstborn was a baby, we went to a music and mom class. When my kids were preschool-aged, I enrolled them in a little cooking class. They took art. There are science camps and Lego camps and zoo camps.
It goes on and on. And us parents, trying to do right by our children, want to expose them to as many different experiences as possible.
Over-scheduled children and families
Kids’ choices back in the day were much simpler. In so many ways, it was a lot harder to do things.
But we didn’t know any differently. Pretty much everyone we knew did what we did. We played kick the can and hide and go seek outside.
Somehow, kids figured out how to entertain themselves. Our parents weren’t running us and our siblings from one activity to the next.
Great things about so many opportunities
Yet, there are advantages that kids today have so many opportunities.
Children can learn languages early, including French, Spanish, and even Mandarin. They can take ski lessons or join a chess club so they discover new interests.
Many take piano or guitar lessons. Everything doesn’t have to be sports related so having more options for kids with different interests is a plus.
Also, in our age of electronics, it’s awesome that kids can be busy experiencing hobbies and interests.
I’d much rather my children busy and active taking tennis lessons, playing on a bowling team, involved in a drama camp, or learning a language than playing on the iPad and Xbox.
So yes, perhaps our kids have too many opportunities. But having options can enrich them in ways we never were.
Think about ways your kids can have it all without sacrificing family time and their own downtime. It’s in these experiences in which they will truly grow.
Do you schedule down days for your child? How many activities is too many? What’s the right balance for your family?