Overscheduled Kids

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

For Delaware dad Cary Hunsaker, managing the schedules of four children as a single father is a daily and daylong challenge. The race begins the minute the morning alarms start ringing.

"I'm up at 5:30 a.m.," Hunsaker said. "I get myself ready, then I make sure they are up in rotation to get them in the shower. I use my lunch hour for dinner planning."

The race continues after work and school when Hunsaker's 18-year-old daughter Courtney heads off to marching band, concert band and pep band practice - if it is not an evening with career-program meetings at school or church activities.

While Courtney shuffles around to practices and meetings, 14-year-old Jonathan is rotating two sports with practice some nights and conditioning on others. When he is not on the field, he is busy with his church youth group.

And then Kelsey, 17, and Jacob, 9, also have full plates with extra-curricular activities that require a virtual juggling act at home.

Hunsaker, like many parents with busy kids, has it down to a science. He relies on technology and his oldest daughter for keeping track of the family schedule, which includes drop-offs and pick-ups at the various Delaware City Schools they all attend.

"Courtney is my calendar," Hunsaker said. "I have a tendency to forget because there are so many activities. And modern technology helps keep me stay on time and on track."

Northwest Columbus residents Shannon Rothwell and her husband Andrew rely on a more traditional calendar to keep track of 14-year-old Ansley's busy schedule. She just graduated from St. Andrew Catholic School and is headed to Bishop Watterson High School this fall.

"I'm old-fashioned," Rothwell said. "I don't have an iPhone. I have a calendar. We sit and write things out together."

They have to, otherwise scheduling year-round softball and training, track, Youth to Youth activities, choir, the school play and altar activities would never stay organized. Ansley does all of this and remains on merit honor roll.

"A busy kid is a good kid," Rothwell said. "She's not on Facebook. She's not on the computer all the time. She's not on the iPod all the time and she is not on the phone all the time."

Rothwell said while the activities rotate days during the week, there is one thing on the calendar every day.

"No matter what, it might be 5 o'clock or it might be 8 o'clock, we always sit down as a family and have dinner and discuss the day," Rothwell said.

"It's all about balance and finding the right combination for kids," said Heather Yardley, a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "A certain amount of structure and activity is good for kids, but there are so many options out there, it is easy to take on too much."

Many students feel pressure to be involved to build an impressive college entrance resume. The truth is a long list of activities does not necessarily give students an edge.

"We know students who are the best are those who are engaged and involved, but all the extracurriculars in the world will never replace a good academic transcript," said Mabel Freeman, assistant vice president of undergraduate admissions for Ohio State University. "That is what every college and university looks for first."

Yardley suggests family rituals like a game night or dinner together to create much needed down-time for kids to give them a break from all the running.

"Even if you get take-out, just that notion of being together and talking about the day is important. It encourages families to be involved in each other's lives and it really shows kids that their parents are involved and care," Yardley said.

Like the Rothwells, that face-to-face time is a priority to the Hunsakers who manage to schedule in a sit-down meal five nights a week.

"That one meal we spend together is the best," Hunsaker said. "It is quality time with my kids. It's 15 minutes, but it's a quality 15 minutes."

Photo caption

Delaware resident Cary Hunsaker(center) is a single father of four, who juggles a hectic schedule for his children. With all four kids having jobs, or extra curricular activities, it can be difficult to get the entire family together with their chaotic schedules.

How Much Is Too Much?

Heather Yardley, a pediatric psychologist with Nationwide Children's Hospital, says there are warning signs when a child is stressed by taking on too much:

  • Difficulty sleeping (not sleeping at all or waking up throughout the night)
  • More than typical complaining
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Change in eating habits (too much or not enough)
  • Verbally discussing worry or stress
  • Headaches

If parents notice these symptoms, Yardley suggests cutting back on activities and working in more time for children to just relax. If parents try several strategies and still see no improvement they should seek professional help for their child.