Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The overextended child

I read this article in the NYTimes on Sunday regarding responses to the loss of innocence in today’s youth. It was a quick follow up piece on a story about the heavily scheduled children of 2006. Long gone are the hours left to entertain oneself. Children are booked for so many activities most do not know the joys of downtime. Anyone my age knows downtime. It’s that time after school where you and your siblings would either play outside on the street, your neighbor’s backyard or in your living room. You’d make up adventures and set up elaborate set designs and props to enhance your imagination.

Henry mentioned to me how his daughter is signed up for 4 sports and in some she belongs to 2 teams. He spends his weekend coaching and shuttling her around while his wife spends the weekdays chauffeuring their two daughters to their functions. He refuses to allow them to take mass transit let alone walk anywhere. There have been weeknights where she returns home from back to back games at 11pm!

Now I know there are fears out there. I know abductions happen more frequently now then in the 70’s and 80’s but is this healthy for a child? How will this affect their independence and self-reliance?

The article points out parents are now investing more time than their parents on their child’s schedule, not bonding time with the child but time planning their children’s activities. More and more families have refrigerators with multiple calendars to manage. Heck, I remember reading in a time management magazine about software designed to interface your children’s schedule, your work schedule and your husband’s work schedule online for the entire family to view and edit.

With the proliferation of electronic gadgets to ‘streamline life’ are we losing the fundamental basics? Kids should be kids. They grow up too damn fast as it is. The internet and television subject them to concepts and ideas earlier and earlier. They know more than their brains can comprehend.

I know many will say I don’t have a foot to stand on. First, I’m not a parent. Second, when I was a kid, I was in every function imaginable in school. Well, I don’t have to be a parent to see the loss of innocence in many of our youth. Plus, there is a strong difference between wanting to join activities freely and having to find transportation to said activities by myself versus being booked and chauffeured! Sure when the event was outside of my parent’s designated kid-safe area, they assisted with a ride or car pools but for the most part, I walked or took the local bus to the event.

The article points out this phenomena happens more frequently in the coastal states. My theory is many coastal parents are dual income families. With the cost of living at outrageous numbers, it’s difficult for one parent to stay at home or take a part time position. Overbooking a child is a means of ensuring the child isn’t home alone. Sure they have to leave early or take their lunch breaks late to shuttle the kids back and forth but it’s worth it to know he/she is safe and that their college/high school apps will be enhanced by their extracurriculars.

I’m also certain many of the parents my age probably felt a little abandoned by their parents. The 80’s parents focused a lot on their personal and professional growth. Don’t start telling me that I’m saying 80’s parents were bad parents. They weren’t. 2 car families were a luxury. Mothers in the workforce had to resort to padded shoulders and boxy suits to carve a niche in the boys club. The idea of taking time out of work or flex time for family was professional suicide.

As humans we constantly try to give our offspring what we didn’t have. If mom was there to push me into soccer, I wouldn’t have had to pay full tuition for college. If dad had time to coach my football team I’d probably have a better relationship with him. That may be true but you wouldn’t have the 10 page script and storyboard for the Adventures of Little Brother and the Dumbbells of Doom or the blueprints of the escape hatch you drew for the secret hideout you masterminded in your attic.

Whether or not I become a overbooked child’s parent is not known. If Lrudlrick and I have children, we’ll hit the hurdle and see what happens. Who knows, I may change my stance but I truly feel a child needs scheduled time to be a kid, not some wunderkind just a plain old kid with bruised knees, dirty hands (don’t get me started on the anti-bacterial freaks) and a chocolate milk grin or in my brother’s case a pistachio stained grin.