I’m worried about my children not being as involved in activities as other young kids in our neighborhood and church. They don’t seem interested in all of the same things other kids are involved in. When I ask them if they want to join things, they don’t give me much of a response. If my kids don’t participate in every activity such as sports, church, scouts, school, dance, and other clubs, have I failed them in some way?
It sure does seem like the modern-day parenting trophy goes to the parent who can provide every educational, vocational, social, musical, and athletic opportunity for their child at the youngest age possible. However, the response you’re getting from your children might prove to be more beneficial to them in the long term than having them over-scheduled in every possible activity.
“The experiences we thought kids had to have before high school (have) moved down to junior high and now elementary,” said William Doherty, professor of family studies and director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota. “Soon, we’ll be talking about leadership opportunities for toddlers.”
We often have an expectation that children need to know what sport they like, what instrument they’ll play, and what they’ll be when they grow up or else they’ll miss out on excellent opportunities. In reality, narrowly focusing in on certain activities at a young age prevents a child from really figuring out what they like and don’t like.
It’s completely normal for children, teens, and especially adults, to discover new interests as they get older. I know of several senior citizens who learn new instruments, sports, and other interests. Please don’t panic if your child doesn’t have a lot of interest in things right now.
It used to be safe for children to try out new sports, like soccer and baseball, in neighborhood pick-up games. Through trial and error, they figured out which ones they liked and then might pursue that sport more formally in adolescence. Now, there is pressure to get children signed up for traveling teams at an early age so they’ll have an adequate sports resumé by the time they’re in high school in order to have a shot at getting a spot. That’s a lot of pressure on a kid.
I hope your kids can be involved in a few activities and be well rounded. Continue to encourage them to enjoy sports, learn an instrument, or follow interests you expose them to. It’s great to learn something new, master something difficult, and grow in the process. Our job as parents is to listen carefully to our kids as we expose them to new experiences to see which ones they might enjoy.
Some economists’ research has demonstrated that there is no correlation between how many activities a child is involved in and future success. And, I think it’s always important to keep in mind how success is defined. I would much rather have my kids involved in a limited amount of activities so they can have down time at home with their siblings and parents, experience space to create and daydream, and build relationships with other people instead of only focusing on building themselves up. I believe part of being a healthy and successful human being involves making space for others, learning how to live in relationships, and having a wide range of interests.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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