Too many extracurricular activities for children can do more harm than good

The growing demand for children to get involved in extracurricular activities outside of school is placing unprecedented strain upon families

A new study, published in Taylor & Francis journal Sport, Education and Society, reveals just how significant a role extracurricular activities, such as music lessons and sports clubs, play in family life.

Attempting to understand the impact children’s extracurricular activities is having on family life, researchers interviewed almost 50 families from twelve primary schools in North-West England.

They discovered that the majority of children – 88% – took part in organized activities on four to five days per week, with 58% doing more than one activity in an evening. Extracurricular involvement was therefore found to dominate family life, especially for families with more than one child.

Consequently, families were spending less quality time together, and parents’ money and energy reserves were often depleted. One mother referred to ‘knackered’ children who ‘don’t get in until 9 or 10pm’, admitting that she was ‘sadly, over the moon’ when something was cancelled.

Explaining these findings, researchers pointed towards growing pressure from fellow parents, children, and schools for children to have a busy extracurricular schedule.

As the study’s lead author, Dr Sharon Wheeler, comments: “We know that parents are particularly keen to ensure their children get on in life. Parents initiate and facilitate their children’s participation in organized activities as it shows that they are ‘good’ parents. They hope that such activities will benefit their children in both the short-term (by keeping them fit and healthy, and helping them to develop friendship groups) and longer-term (by improving their job prospects).

“However, our research highlights that the reality can be somewhat different. While children might experience some of these benefits, a busy organized activity schedule can put considerable strain on parents’ resources and families’ relationships, as well as potentially harm children’s development and well-being.”

Although multiple car ownership and a rise in time-poor working mums have increased the accessibility and convenience of extracurricular activities, Wheeler warns parents to be mindful of overdoing it.

“Raising awareness of this issue can help those parents who feel under pressure to invest in their children’s organized activities, and are concerned with the impact of such activities on their family, to have the confidence to plan a less hectic schedule for their children.

“Until a healthy balance is struck, extracurricular activities will continue to take precedence over family time, potentially doing more harm than good.”

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