Under-Scheduling Children - How Bad?

Filed under: Activities: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Activities: Tweens, Expert Advice: Tweens

I don't know, what do you guys want to do? Photo: stockexpert.com

This year many mom-friends are skipping the camp-gymnastics-art-class-tutoring routine for a more relaxed (not to mention cheaper) summer. One the one hand, this sounds ultra-appealing, and gives many opportunities to be flexible, slow down, and have the occasional ice-cream breakfast (for instance).

At the same time, what's a kid (and a kid's mom) to do on these long days? And is it helpful for children to be around other kids in some kind of structured environment or is it totally fine, maybe even better, to skip the structure for the summer? To find out, I called Parental Advisor Robert Schachter, a New York City-based psychologist and faculty member of Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

"It's not so much about about scheduling as it is about how much a kid has to do," he says. "If kids are booked morning to night and can't catch their breath, it's not necessarily the best thing."

Ah, cool. I had a (wishful) feeling this over-scheduling trend was coming to a close. "The issue is: What they're going to do if they're not in a structured program," he adds. I was wondering that as well. "What you don't want is them vegging in front of the TV eight hours a day doing nothing." So how's a busy mom to survive summer without camp? A few ideas:

Playdates! Have a candid conversation with other moms whose kids you like and see if you can trade days with them. Setting up some regular dates is far easier than doing the weekly scramble.

Limit media. Just like during the school year, too much screen time is not a good thing. "If they end up being little couch potatoes, it's not good for them," says Schachter. "What I've seen is, they get hypnotized and they waste enormous amounts of time it's not regenerative time or time they feel like they're being a kid -- it's mind-numbing."

Help them succeed. Any time you can find an activity that helps them feel their effect on the universe and interact with other people in a positive way, you're helping them develop their sense of self, says Schachter. Local leagues, community center classes, even an ad-hoc league set up by parents; it doesn't have to be pricey to be beneficial.

So, how bad is it to under-schedule the kids during the summer? As long as they have something to do and aren't sitting in front of the TV all day, says Schachter, it's not bad. Experiment with how much downtime a child needs until you find the right balance. "Some kids love to be active all the time and crash at the end of the day," he says. Other kids need more time during the day to relax and recharge -- being flexible will help you both find the right mix.

Have you had a less-than-perfect parenting moment and you're wondering, "How bad?" Send it to PrincessLvsPink@Gmail.com and it could get addressed in this column.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of PrincessLovesPink.com.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.