Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Hyper-Parenting" it's no longer a term it's a way of life!

I often have people ask me, "Where do you find time to make crafts or read books?(I belong to an amazing book club. I'll touch base on that in a later post) Better yet, lately I've been asked, "Where in the world do you find time to write a blog?" My answer is simple, I don't run 5 nights a week to organized activities.
A psychiatrist by the name of Dr Alvin Rosenfeld wrote a book titled "The Over Scheduled Child:Avoiding The Hyper-Parenting Trap (Click here to read abouth the author)
He coined the term "Hyper-Parenting" which for most parents is no longer just a term to describe their overactive family but it's become an expected "way of life".
So what does "Hyper-Parenting" mean exactly? "Hyper-Parenting" occurs when parents control all of their children's activities to the point that there is no longer any unstructured downtime or free play.
I must admit I have fallen into this trap myself with my own children. Last week I emailed my four sister-in-laws to ask them which summer sports they were signing their kids up for. I was hoping I could sign Opal up for a sport that one of their kids would be on.
One of my sister-in-laws responded with this:
~Monday-Sandbox digging
~Tuesday-Tree house sliding
~Wednesday-Turtle pool diving
~Thursday-Bean and bushel basket toss
~Friday-Sweet Corn husking
~Saturday-Toy tractor obstacle course
~Sunday-Olympic Swinging on the rings and monkey bars
All are welcome to join in on the fun!

I had to laugh at the fact I was feeling guilty because I have a four year old boy and I haven't signed him up for any organized sports/activities yet. The truth is, he would be quite happy to do any one of the above mentioned activities.

Of course there are those who support this lifestyle. They would argue that by exposing a child to all these activities we are supporting opportunity for growth and development and expanding their social world.
I want to explain that I am not against organized activities. In fact, my kids love swimming lessons and dance class. I just want to point out that we need to stop and examine what are motives are for enrolling the child in the activity.
Let's talk about motives for a second. Believe it or not there are actual parents out there (maybe your one of them) that start in early preschool signing their children up for anything from dance, art, hockey etc. Are these parents hoping that their child will get "a leg up" on other children by encouraging early exposure?
Will providing these life experiences eventually gain them admittance to the top ranked colleges? Maybe or maybe not! The point is, are we really assembling our children's portfolios while they are still in elementary school.
Another argument I've heard in favor of the over-active lifestyle is that kids will get into trouble if they have too much down time. This makes me think of that saying, " Idle hands make for a devil's handy work"
When I suggest that our kids are in need of more downtime, I'm not talking about allowing them to sit in front of the t.v. or computer. I'm simply suggesting that if we allow kids to have more free play we are encouraging them to develop their imaginations.
In our household we have been playing a lot of board games lately. "Hungry Hippos" and "Snakes and Ladders" are so much fun. They actually bring out the kid in me when I play them with my own children. In fact, many board games are great educational tools.

As a nurse I'm always concerned about the negative health impacts my decision making has on my children. I read that there are real physical symptoms occurring in children as result of this over scheduled lifestyle. Kids are reporting headaches, anxiety, stomach problems and even depression as a result of this extreme lifestyle.
Do we really want our children to feel as though they are disappointing us or even worse, that they may not "make it" in life if they happen to mess up at the music recital?
There are things we can do to protect our children from this rapidly growing problem.
As parents we need to set limits by picking and choosing wisely what activities we enroll our children in. Does your child really need to be signed up for that 8 week intensive hockey camp this summer so that when they return to hockey in the fall they'll be the best on the team? What ever happened to the backyard rink.
I grew up with three brothers and the only reason I joined a hockey team was because I was the shooting target in our backyard.
It is also important to involve children in the entire process of choosing an activity and allowing them to decide when they no longer want to commit to it.
We need not consider a child a failure or quitter just because they don't want to do dance anymore. Children's interests change often and maybe this is their way of telling you that they are experiencing burnout and in need of unstructured play.
So, what does everyone think? Are you a "Hyper-Parent"? Maybe you are one and didn't even realize it. Are you a parent that supports this lifestyle and would like to engage in a healthy discussion about it? Let me know by leaving me a comment or emailing me! Cheers


Nichole said...

My kids are still young. I do have my 3 year old enrolled in "stuff" but just one thing at a time...swimming lessons (winter), soccer (summer), gymnastics (fall). The reason I do this is because she is not in daycare and it's a way for her to interact with other kids and have direction from another adult. I agree with you that some parents hyper-parent and I saw a program that these kids have a very difficult time post secondary school...actually after a job interview a parent called the interviewer to see why her child didn't get the job...also parents are calling college professors about their kids. I don't know what the future holds for us but I hope I don't hyper-parent!
Love reading your stuff!! :)

Crystal said...

There are great programs out there for younger children that introduce them to the world of socialization. I remember signing Sapphire up for "Gym and Swim" at the YMCA. 45 min of games in the gym followed by 30 min swim. It was great because not only did the kids get to socialize but so did the parents or guardians.
I like your idea of choosing one activity per season.
Thanks for your comment!