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Are Kids Too Busy?

Aug 03, 2015 03:54PM ● Published by Dia

By Audrey Sellers 

Busy is the new black, and every- body wants to be in style. But it’s no longer just adults who lead fast-paced, frenetic lives – kids are busier than ever. Nearly six in 10 children participate in extracurricular activities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and three out of four American families with school-aged children have at least one playing an organized sport – a total of about 45 million kids, according to the Boston Globe.

In Southlake, accolades are a testa- ment to just how much kids are invested in academics and extracurricular activities. Carroll just made history as the first district in newly formed Class 6A to win the 2015 UIL Lone Star Cup. This award is be- stowed annually to six high schools – one in each of the six UIL classifications – with the state’s best academic and athletic programs.

Flip to page 38, and you’ll find our “Five Ones to Watch” story on exceptional incom- ing Carroll seniors. Clearly, a lot of kids have a lot going on – and they’re excelling in what they do. Kids are busy, certainly, but are they too busy? It depends.

“There is some evidence that having activities to do, especially if parents are not around, is really beneficial for youth – particularly in early adolescence,” says Amy R. Murrell, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of North Texas. “However, if a five-year-old, who could be having dinner with her parents and sib- lings, is instead at art class on Monday eve- nings, dance on Tuesdays, gymnastics on Wednesdays, and so on, that might be a different story.” 

 The Benefits of Being Busy

Being busy sometimes gets a bad rap, but there are many upsides to kids staying active. They can explore different interests, engage with other kids, develop social skills, and uncover their natural interests and talents.

They also learn how to effectively manage their time – a skill they’ll no doubt need in adulthood. Because they’ll be so busy, of course.

“Time-management skills are important as children progress into adolescence and beyond,” says Kristy S. Hagar, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Col- leyville who works with children, adolescents and adults. “Hav- ing a family model of how to appropriately manage a va- riety of tasks and activities – as well as learning when to recognize when it becomes too much – is a good lifelong skill to learn.”

And then there’s the old expression: Idle hands are the devil’s playground. When kids are busy, they have less time to get in trouble. Female high- school athletes are 92 percent less likely to get involved with drugs and 80 percent less likely to get pregnant than non-athletes, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. 

There are benefits from an academic standpoint, too. Kids who participate in extracurricular activities have a 15- percent higher classroom attendance rate than students who are not involved, according to the National Center for Edu- cation Statistics. Students who don’t miss classes are more likely to have a higher GPA, and thus have improved college opportunities. The benefits just keep piling up. But, so can the downsides.

When Busy Becomes Bad

If kids are overscheduled – when they’re booked down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities in a never- ending cycle of busyness – something has got to give. Most of- ten, it’s sleep.

“Kids end up delaying their bedtime to get their schoolwork done after they’ve done their extracurricular activities, and they end up short sleeping – not getting enough sleep every night,” says William T. Goldman, M.D., P.A., of Southlake Psy- chiatric & Counseling Center. “This creates a cumulative sleep- deprivation effect.”

Kids need sleep, and when they’re not getting adequate rest on a regular basis, it negatively impacts every aspect of their lives. They’re moody. They can’t concentrate. They forget things. Kids are just like adults who are sleep-deprived – only their bodies are still growing and need that rest.

“Sleep is such an important factor because it can impair the regulation of the secretion of growth hormone, which is important for kids going through puberty. You want them to reach their full height potential,” Dr. Goldman says. “And from a mental health perspective, kids just need time to chill out and do nothing. They need to give their brains a bit of a vacation at times.”

Everybody needs a break – especially kids. When they go nonstop and they’re expected to perform at the highest levels academically and in their extracurricular pursuits, the stress can take a toll.

“If overscheduling leads to an increase in stress, you might see fewer resources to cope with other daily hiccups that are part of life,” Dr. Hagar says. “That may result in feelings of being chronically over- whelmed, which may increase anxiety. In more extreme cases, significant anxiety or mood

problems might arise.”
It’s important to remember

that kids are just that – kids. They’re not meant to be “on” all the time.

“As kids get into adoles- cence, they need down time. Their bodies are changing, and they need time to rest, relax and recharge their batteries just like we do,” says Erica Zwernemann, M.D., a pediatri- cian with Southlake Family Medicine. “When kids aren’t getting adequate rest, it really does impact their health.”

Elementary-age kids should clock nine to 10 hours of sleep at night, she says, and high-

school kids need at least seven or eight hours.
Sleep isn’t the only thing that takes a hit when kids’

schedules start to stack up. Family time can also suffer when kids are overbooked. “That’s one of the worst things I see about overscheduling,” says Dr. Zwernemann. “The more things that are going on, the more it pulls families away from family din- ner – from spending time together.”

Sixty years ago, the average family dinner was 90 minutes. Today, it’s less than 12 minutes, according to the Six O’ Clock Scramble, a site that helps busy families connect at the dinner table. 

Nearly everyone is feeling the dinnertime crunch. A poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 46 percent of survey respon- dents say eating together is difficult to do on a regular basis.

But the benefits of family dinners are huge. Kids who share family dinners three or more times per week are less likely to be overweight and engage in risky behaviors, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health. They’re more likely to eat healthy foods and perform better academically. And, perhaps the best benefit, they have better relationships with their parents.

“Research has consistently demonstrated that families who spend time together, such as committing to family meals at least a few times a week, tend to cope better with life’s daily demands,” Dr. Hagar says.

Going Full-Throttle

Rhonda Gruenewald knows what it’s like to have a family that’s always on the go. This Southlake mom has four athletes: Taylor (20), Payton (19), Brayden (18) and Mitchell (14). Though life is less hectic now that she only has two kids liv- ing at home, Gruenewald and her family have learned how to embrace being busy.

She and her husband, Trevor, started their kids in organized sports when each child was three years old. Over the years, their kids participated in a number of sports and extracurricular activi- ties: gymnastics, soccer, tee ball, piano, scouts, and religious education, just to name a few.

“I like to call our lives ‘happy chaos.’ We would sometimes have over 30 games in one weekend,” she says. “It was insane. The amount of gas we would go through in the DFW area was crazy. We always did our best to divide and conquer, and have one of us at each game.”

Gruenewald uses a Mac calendar to keep ev- eryone organized. She color-codes each family member, and when she adds an event, it goes di- rectly on to that person’s calendar. She includes all the need-to-know information: address, direc- tions, jersey color, and any other important de- tails.

She feels blessed to have moved to Southlake six years ago. “This area has so much talent, and so many wonderful coaches and teachers who have helped our kids excel,” she says.

Taylor plays indoor and sand volleyball at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Payton plays soccer at Mississippi State. Brayden is an incoming Carroll senior who plays indoor and sand volleyball, and plays defense on the Carroll varsity volleyball team. Mitchell, an incoming Carroll freshman, has played a variety of sports as a Dragon and was most recently the District Champion in pole vault.

“We are a very close family and we have always maintained four core priorities in our lives: faith, family, fitness and work – schoolwork or sports teams,” Gruenewald says. “Due to our schedules, we find time for very little else. But for us, it’s all been worth it. We have loved every minute of it and have had a lot of fun along the way.” 

Finding Balance

That’s what matters. If kids are enjoying their ex- tracurricular involvement, it can be an incredibly enriching experience – for kids and their families.

“Everything in moderation is the key,” says Dr. Hagar. “So many activities and a variety of sports are available to both boys and girls at younger and younger ages – and that can be very positive.”

It all comes down to balance. Families need to- gether time, and kids need down time in order to thrive. If the scale tips too heavily towards being busy, it may be time to reprioritize.

“Take a good assessment of your core values as a family,” suggests Dr. Goldman. “Think about how you can arrange your time to allow an opti- mal balance of activities, rest and relaxation, and family bonding.”

When kids’ schedules are so jam-packed, it may indeed be “happy chaos,” as Gruenewald puts it. But as long as there’s an element of happy in all the busyness, being busy isn’t so bad. 

In Print, City+School School are kids too busy?

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