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The Tyranny of an Overbooked Schedule: What Lurks Underneath It All

Catherine is a senior communications professional helping social change organizations tell their story in powerful ways. She has expertise in public health, environmental stewardship, philanthropy and education. Follow her on Twitter @CatBrozena

For many students, staff, teachers, and parents of school-aged children, the school year can sometimes seem like a marathon. The back-to-school time period kicks off with a mad dash of activity that often doesn’t wind down until the end of the semester. Or worse, it keeps going until summer vacation is reached!

And by activity, we’re not just talking about long hours of in-school classroom time. There’s also the likelihood that you’re signed up for some collection of out-of-school activities – soccer practice, karate classes, piano lessons, play dates and birthday parties with friends. Somewhere in there, homework has to get done. And sufficient time for eating and sleeping seems rather important.

Many a psychologist and book writer have noted that today’s children (and adults) are wildly over-scheduled. A simple search for books with the word “overscheduled” calls forth a list of titles ranging from “The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap,” to “Manage Your Time to Reduce Your Stress: A Handbook for the Overworked, Overscheduled, and Overwhelmed.”

458843589Over-scheduling, it has been noted, seems to be more common among middle- and upper-class families with parents who can afford to send their kids to dance classes or chess tournaments. But Hilary Levey Friedman, a sociologist and author of “Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture,” notes that there’s a “competitive hustle” pervading our American culture that even the disadvantaged among us will seek to engage.

“Parents worry that if their children do not participate in childhood tournaments they will fall behind in the tournament of life,” writes Friedman. “While it’s not clear if the parents are correct, what matters is that they believe that they are and act accordingly. Their beliefs about the future shape their actions in the present when it comes to their children’s competitive after-school activities.”

Perhaps therein is the punch line: our beliefs about the need to engage in the much discussed “rat race” of our time to secure a lifetime of social and financial advantage may fundamentally be driving our own and our children’s schedules. If there’s a wake-up call to be heeded, it may be to simply examine these beliefs and identify just how much they are motivating our actions.83116063

In his New York Times article on the subject, author Bruce Feiler notes that this advice is commonly espoused by “the leading voices in the children-are-overburdened chorus.”

“I should worry less about the amount of time my children spent on activities,” he muses, “and more about the messages I sent about those activities.”

To aid in that reflection, you might heed the thoughtful insight offered in 10 Signs Your Kids Are Overscheduled, which includes indicators such as “You Never See Your Kid Do Just Nothing,” or “Family Mealtimes Are a Thing of the Past.”

And then there’s the obvious realization that this isn’t just a problem for young people. Parents and guardians of school-aged kids and teens struggle to keep up with the competition as well. This rather tongue-in-cheek article by mommy blogger, KJ Dell’Antonia offers the complementary 10 Signs Your Parent Is Overscheduled reflection.

Wherever you or the children in your life fall in the over-schedule spectrum, perhaps now is a good time to take a little time-out to pause, catch our breath and honestly examine what’s driving our plate full of activities. We might be surprised at the motivations and the messages that we uncover.

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