It’s that time of year again. With the rush back to school, many parents find themselves running kids from soccer to piano to dance and art lessons, then to church activities while trying to fit in a book report before midnight. For some years, a cultural fear developed that many children were “overscheduled,” that too many hyper-intense parents were committing their children to an excessive number of organized activities, resulting in stressed-out kids and families.
Now that fear has shifted to a bigger threat—screen time. In this day of “so much digital temptation,” many parents find that a critical way to restrict screens of one sort or another is scheduled activities. As Andrea Orr recently argued in The Washington Post, “engaging kids in soccer, band, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts or even cotillion is a pretty sure way to sever the screen connection, at least for a few hours. And that in itself is a big benefit, even without the added advantage of physical exercise, learning an instrument or improving table manners.”
Being busy doesn’t end up being “so bad” after all, especially when considering the additional benefits associated with scheduled activities—supportive peer and adult relationships, skill building, higher self-esteem, greater sense of purpose and increased contributions to family, school and the community at large. In fact, one of the challenging disparities facing children in homes without the means to engage their children in extracurricular activities is the risk associated with dramatically higher hours of unstructured screen time.
But with all the benefits associated with enriching scheduled activities, there is often one area of loss, sometimes profound loss. That is, working together as families in the ordinary work of family life. A 2015 survey of 1,001 parents by Braun Research found that although 82 percent reported doing chores regularly while growing up, only 28 percent said they required the same of their children. Yet the reported benefits are substantial. Greater responsibility, self-esteem, and the capacity to delay gratification have all been associated with doing chores while growing up.
Marty Rossman’s 20-year study of 84 children across development into adulthood found that doing chores at ages 3-4 was the strongest predictor of education completion, career success and stronger relationships in their mid-20s. And the now famous 75-year Harvard Glueck study of inner-city men found that industriousness in childhood, including part-time jobs, chores and sports teams, “predicted adult mental health better than any other factor.”
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Jenet Erickson is an affiliated scholar of the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.