Karate. Tee ball. Soccer. Gymnastics. Piano. And that’s just for your preschooler. Things really ramp up in elementary school, when club sports and afterschool activities kick in. Color-coded calendars and meals in the car are the norm for busy families these days. We wear our frenzy like a badge of honor, with our children following right behind us.
With the hindsight of a mom who’s been there, I’m going to be the boss of you.
When your kids want to do ALL THE THINGS, pump the brakes.
In fact, before they even begin to ask to play three sports at once while taking music classes and private coaching, practice telling them no. Begin to set some family rules and policies about how many activities your child can do at once and how many nights you will have family dinner around the table with no activities. Repeat after me: A blank spot on your calendar does not mean you’re available or that it must be filled.
If this seems harsh, then please know my heart’s desire is for you and your children to SAVE THE CHILDHOODS.
Here is why. There is a limited time in life when a kid can be a kid. The years pass quickly before the responsibilities of adulthood come calling. The lines of expectations have blurred because in the years since I was a kid, it’s become a cultural standard to start the lessons and do the things and give your child a head start even before he or she is fully potty-trained. Our culture is marked by busy syndrome and competition.
We moms need to take a deep breath and consider the rising rates of depression and anxiety in teens and kids. I’ve been an adoption social worker for 25 years, working with families throughout my career, and I’ve just gone through the college application process with my second child.
From my vantage point, I need you to know that colleges around the country are seeing alarming rates of incoming freshmen in need of mental health services before they’ve really even gone into their college career.
I’m tracing the steps back to let you know that there is a direct correlation between our children’s mental health and the cultural demands of busy and competitive childhoods. It’s time we talk ourselves off the ledge and set firm boundaries to tell our children no.
NO to all the things. No to running and gunning all weekend long. No to 10 year olds who worry about time management. No to filling up our calendars with overscheduling. No to letting our kids think frenzy is the pace of life or they have to be part of everything happening around them. Let’s flip the FOMO (fear of missing out) so that we fear missing out on a carefree childhood for our kids rather than all the happenings.
Let’s look at the bigger picture. The American College of Pediatricians note that teens who have family dinners three to four times per week have a decreased risk of alcohol, drug, and nicotine use, as well as a decreased risk of high-risk behavior.
So, let’s back up that train. Let’s hold our kids back at younger ages to enjoy carefree time to play, use their imaginations, and have relaxed family time at home. Let’s remind ourselves our kids need to be kids, even if all their friends are doing otherwise.
It’s okay to go against the flow. It’s okay to buck the trends. It’s okay to tell our children they can choose one activity at a time, and a certain number of evenings are simply family time. It’s okay to do only one birthday party on a Saturday and say you aren’t available for the other opportunities. In fact, as a social worker and a mom to teens, I think it’s imperative that we coach our kids all along on how to live a well-balanced life and manage stress by simply saying no.
If you want to know how to stop the madness of all the things, here’s how. You and your spouse determine the margins your family are going to enforce, and then you let your kids know that in your family, you want them to have time to enjoy their childhoods because adulthood will come at them fast enough. If they fall behind socially or in sports or in other arenas, then remind yourself you are playing a long game. You want to send your child into adulthood with a childhood of amazing memories and a mental wellness ready to thrive in the next season.