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Signing children up for too many extracurricular activities could be harmful, study finds

Researchers say that overscheduling children can put a strain on the whole family

Photo (c) Imgorthand - Getty Images
Many parents encourage their children to get involved in extracurricular activities as a way to help them develop vital life skills. But a recent study suggests that devoting too much time and energy to these groups can harm the entire family.

Researchers from Edge Hill University and the University of Chester in the United Kingdom say that families with children who participate too much in extracurricular activities tend to spend less quality time together. Parents in these families were also found to spend more money and have less energy as a result of trying to keep up with their children’s busy schedules.

Study co-author Dr. Sharon Wheeler explains that many parents feel pressured to provide outlets for their children – but this can often come at a cost.

“We know that parents are particularly keen to ensure their children get on in life. Parents initiate and facilitate their children’s participation in organized activities as it shows that they are ‘good’ parents. They hope that such activities will benefit their children in both the short-term (by keeping them fit and healthy, and helping them to develop friendship groups) and longer-term (by improving their job prospects),” she said.

"However, our research highlights that the reality can be somewhat different. While children might experience some of these benefits, a busy organized activity schedule can put considerable strain on parents' resources and families' relationships, as well as potentially harm children's development and wellbeing."

More harm than good in some cases

The study found that the vast majority of interviewed families had children who were involved in some sort of extracurricular activity -- such as music lessons or team sports – four out of five days during the week (88 percent). An additional 57 percent of those children even had more than one activity occurring on the same evening.

The researchers say extracurricular activities can easily dominate family life in cases like these, especially if families have more than one child. Wheeler suggests that families take a careful look at how extracurricular activities are affecting home life to see if children should scale back.

"Raising awareness of this issue can help those parents who feel under pressure to invest in their children's organized activities, and are concerned with the impact of such activities on their family, to have the confidence to plan a less hectic schedule for their children,” she said.

"Until a healthy balance is struck, extracurricular activities will continue to take precedence over family time, potentially doing more harm than good."

The full study has been published in the journal Sport, Education and Society.

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