What’s the Right Amount of Afterschool Activity?

Reader Question: Is three hours of one sport once a week too much for a 7-year-old? This sport meets from 6-9 p.m. It is nearly 10 p.m. before child is in bed (as opposed to usual 8:30 bedtime). My husband thinks it’s OK. He points out that our son’s homework is not suffering and he’s not sleep deprived (though he’s often grumpy the next morning).
This activity takes place on Tuesdays, which has the potential to become three nights of later-than-hoped-for bedtimes due to church on Wednesday evenings and another activity on Thursdays. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

rosemond Well, your husband could well argue that you’ve asked the wrong guy. Two reasons: First, I am completely against adult appropriation and micromanagement of activities that children once organized and “managed” themselves; second, while I sometimes enjoy watching a good college or professional sports matchup, I care not who wins. I liberated myself from sports long ago and have no regrets. I save lots of emotional and mental energy for far better purposes.

I realize the adults who run children’s sports programs are well intentioned, but the children in question are not deriving the full benefit of learning decision-making, problem-resolution, and leadership skills. I maintain they aren’t even learning the true art of teamwork. All that went out the window when “involvement” became a parenting buzzword. Adults have turned what was once fun into performance events.

The alternative—which I’ve previously written about in this column and in several of my books—is for a minimum number of adults to supervise children’s sports events, but for the kids to pick captains who pick teams (thus, team makeup is always different) and for the children themselves to decide who plays what position and resolve disagreements. Take it from a guy who played lots of “sandlot” sports when he was a youngster, the learning that takes place within that context is invaluable, both short- and long-term. I even believe that bullying would become much less of a problem under those circumstances.

I also maintain that organized after-school pursuits of whatever sort should not regularly preclude relaxed family meals, family activities and obligations, a child’s ability to do his or her homework without feeling rushed, chores, or an adequate amount of sleep (which varies from child to child).

Then there’s the matter of your child’s thoughts on the subject. What does he think about all of this? Is he “invested” in this sport or is he simply doing what his dad wants him to do? If given the opportunity to quit (which, believe me, does not doom a child to being a life-long quitter), would he take it?

Having said all that, my best answer to your question is that when mom and dad disagree about a parenting issue and can’t find a compromise, the default position should always be “no.” That understanding, entered into by both parents willingly, saves lots of emotional energy. It means that one person “wins” sometimes, the other person at other times. Very civilized, if you ask me (which you did).

John Rosemond

Family psychologist John Rosemond is America’s most widely-read parenting expert. Learn more about John at www.rosemond.com

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