Do we underestimate the value of overscheduling?
I've been pondering this question: Is the overscheduled child more at risk than the underscheduled child? I'll take the contrarian view and say no.
One of the contemporary laments is that kids today have too little time to be kids, so busy are they being shuttled from soccer practice to dance lessons to math tutoring. Supposedly this deprives them of the opportunity to learn through unstructured play, as children did for centuries before them.
I think some of the nostalgia we have for the carefree days of yesteryear, when kids developed their imaginations and learned social skills by hanging out with their peers, is exactly that: nostalgia.
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, and yes, I had a lot of unscheduled time to be a kid. Some of it was great and some of it was dangerous. I knew kids who were drinking alcohol and taking drugs before they hit middle school. All this occurred right under parental noses in a middle-class neighborhood.
Not being especially adventurous, my own pursuits were more innocent (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it), but even innocent fun can hurt. I'm sure we played with fire (literally -- what kid can resist a pack of matches?) more often than was wise.
And, I remind you, this was 40 to 50 years ago, before the temptations of the cyber world, with its myriad ways to get a kid in trouble. Overscheduled? I think we might have been a bit underscheduled.
I tried to keep this in mind when my own kids were young. I don't know if they were overscheduled, but I erred on the side of encouraging them to join sports teams and take art classes and get involved in Scouting.
It's a funny thing about kids, but if they hate something, they have a surefire way of communicating it. They tell you. Often in emphatic terms, with tears if necessary. If mine had been overly stressed, I think I would have known it pretty quick.
My other objection to the lament about the overscheduled child is that it assumes everyone lives in a trouble-free zone. In neighborhoods where the streets are meaner and the resources fewer, I'm guessing a lot of kids, not to mention
parents, would love to have the problem of overscheduling because it would imply a chance to be somewhere safe, doing something constructive, most of the time.
When Columbus was on the verge of closing recreation centers due to a budget crisis, I don't recall too many people rejoicing at the prospect of kids having a chance to roam free without supervision. Could that be because some of those
centers are located in areas where you can't assume that anyone, let alone an unsupervised child, is safe wandering the streets?
Sure, let kids be kids. Give them time to learn all the things they learn when they play and negotiate and fight and fantasize with each other. But give them a schedule, too.
Joe Blundo's column, So to Speak, appears in the Life section of The Columbus Dispatch. It's a mix of humor, human interest and information. A collection of his columns has been published in the book Dancing Dads, Defective Peeps and Buckeye Misadventures. He lives in Worthington with his wife and two children.