Town Square

SuperNanny - over scheduled kids

Original post made by Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 22, 2008

On last week's episode of this ABC show, the supernanny was working with a San Francisco area family of 4 children who were all over scheduled and their behavior definitely showed it. The eldest boy, 9 years old, had 9 after school activities including Chinese school, English language arts tutoring, soccer, golf, scouts, piano, drums and the younger siblings were just as busy. The mother prepared meals in containers for the kids to eat in the car and the trunk had multiple backpacks for each kid and their numerous activities.

The supernanny's first order of busines was to reduce the number of activities drastically which was hard because the parents had different priorities to their kids. They also felt that they were doing the very best for their kids by giving them so many activities.

As far as I know, this was not a Palo Alto family but could easily have been so. Looking at my kids' friends, it is often difficult to arrange a playdate or a birthday party because everyone is so busy.

What would be a realistic number of activities and does it make a difference whether they are academic, energetic, religious or creative?


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Posted by Anamika
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 6:07 pm

There is no such thing as a realistic number! I didn't watch the super nanny show you have mentioned, but its difficult not to notice similar families around Palo Alto.

Firstly, its unfair to say that the children were having behavior issues since they were over scheduled. A lot depends on the child as well.

Secondly, scheduling depends on the family too - in families where both the parents work full time jobs, the activities are restricted to the weekends. As a result scheduling play dates/ birthday parties with these kids is a challenge - but a play date during the week with these kids is easily possible. We know one family with one stay-at-home parent - they have activities crammed after school .. their weekends are wide open!

Type of activities - again very relevant to the family. There are no 'must do' activities. One can consider swimming as a 'need to know' - but the way to schedule this activity can differ between families ( some choose to teach their own kids, some choose group lessons, some choose private lessons ). I think some kind of self-defense program is important - but my sister, who lives across the town, thinks its a complete waste of time :)

Some parents who did not have a lot growing up and who can afford these activities now, may think of providing their kids with 'opportunities' by enrolling them in multiple activities. Some parents who are busy with the work, may be trying to compensate with these activities ( well, they are doing it in the best interest of the child and not trying to throw off responsibility )

The important thing, imo, is to recognize the feedback the child provides - voluntarily or involuntarily and act on it.

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Posted by high school parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 22, 2008 at 8:12 pm

there are services - almost like taxi services - that will take younger children to activities during the week - when our kids were younger many of their friends were unavailable after school owing to this - it didn't seem to matter how the child felt about being taken places.

once they get to high school they will be extremely busy, too - that's the way it is nowadays.

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Posted by janette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 23, 2008 at 1:57 pm

I am trying to think if I ever had a scheduled after school activity. Learning to swim, which was a safety issue, since we lived near the water, that was it. How did I ever manage to get into MIT without having taken piano, I can't imagine.

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Posted by high school parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 23, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Competition to have an extensive paper record (especially with awards) seems to be at an all-time high for seniors applying to universities.

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Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2008 at 1:36 am

In order to develop well as independent and creative people, kids NEED unscheduled time. Studies have shown this.

When my kids grew "too old" for summer camp (and more capable of being left on their own during my workday), instead of vegging with a TV / computer and video games, they developed creative hobbies (art, writing, costuming, cooking, woodworking) and improved their social skills with friends. They also read more books, both fiction and fact, and asked more questions about the world.

Now I let THEM schedule their after-school activities, based on their own drives and personal motivations. One sew commissioned clothing and costumes and does commission doll painting of pricey Asian ball-jointed dolls, another studies Taiko drumming, both practice martial arts...

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Posted by Arden Pennell
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jan 25, 2008 at 11:53 am

Arden Pennell is a registered user.

We recently touched on the play vs. structured activity debate in a cover article, "No mere child's play." It might provide food for thought: Web Link.
The original question was what sort of activity to schedule; many in the article said unstructured play develops creativity even better than targeted activities.
Several parents said they tried to limit scheduled extracurriculars to a couple days per week, while others suggested organizing neighborhood play groups.

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Posted by bzparent
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 28, 2008 at 6:24 pm

When I was a kid we had a lot more freedom to ride around town on our bikes, play at the park unsupervised and pop in and out of our friend’s houses unannounced. Now it is a different world. We are more aware of the risks for children out there. Children still need to be active after-school, but the trend is to do more structured activities where they are in a safe setting. Also, I think parents fear having idle teenagers, and want their children to get involved in sports, music, etc. at an early age, so their future teens won't be hanging out the mall after school, or worse, trying drugs and other risky behaviors.

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Posted by annonymous
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 31, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Contrary to the message in the movie "Juno", kids do not do engage in risky behaviours because they are bored or idle. And to engage your kids in endless activities to prevent your child from becoming an idle teen is not a healthy way to approach this issue. Quality family time with children and teens is more important than any activity, sports and the arts alike.
With quality family time the rewards are endless, but what do you get from a child who is constantly busy. You get a hi-bye sort of relationship. My kids liked what other kids were into:soccer, dance, music, etc, but they also loved being free to spend time with their friends and with family and they still do. A healthy mix of both family, friends and activiities seems to be the best prescription to a less stressfull lifestyle.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2008 at 4:48 pm

I think that anon above is right in their last paragraph, but do tend to think that bored teens are more likely to get into trouble, of various types, than those who have things to do.

There is of course, a balance required, and this is the difficulty. I am against teens hanging out in the home that has the coolest video games, the most lenient parent controls and the best snacks (their descriptions not mine).

I think that as parents we try our best in elementary schools to get to know their friends and their friends parents quite well, but as soon as they hit middle school that gets very difficult particularly as things like birth order makes what one family finds acceptable as being not on for another (older siblings doing something first mean that the younger ones follow rather than what their friends who are oldest in their families do).

Getting your teens to do family things gets harder as they find it less wonderful as they get older to spend time with parents. Consequently, it is better for parents to get involved in their teens activities rather than expecting the teens to want to hang out with their family. Therefore things like volunteering at school dances, coaching sports, driving the carpool and various things that make the parents as busy as the kids seems wise.

As anon says, a healthy mix of family, friends and activities is the best prescription but sometimes it is this mix which makes things too stressful.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm

The idea that a bored teenager will get into more "trouble" than one that is engaged in many activities is absurd. Boredom does not lead to trouble and it is that sentiment that often causes parents to overbook their kids in countless activities to protect them. It really is parents and the values of those parents that keep kids out of "trouble" not the activiities.
If activities really worked to keep children from becoming "teens in trouble" then we wouldn't have teens in trouble at all, due to the amount we overbook our children. And yet we do have teens in trouble. And I hardly think spending time with your teens is something that brings on stress. If it does, then you are doing it wrong. Actually I think getting teens involved in your activities is a good way to spend time with your kids. Teens really want their parents to be part of their lives and vice a versa. A bored teen is not a recipe for a troubled teen, but an ignored one is.