How Many After-School Activities is Too Much?

Children painting at easel.

The Benefits of After-School Programs

More than 10 million children participate in after-school activities and clubs. The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that children who are not involved in afterschool activities are 49 percent more likely to use drugs and 37 percent more likely to become a teen parent.

Various clubs and programs after school help children learn about teamwork, relationships, goals, and time management. Many programs stress physical development and help keep children healthy, while instilling a love of sports.

One thing all afterschool activities have in common is that they broaden your child’s understanding of the world and can help discover an innate talent. Children who are involved in at least one afterschool program may experience:

  • Decreased risk of juvenile delinquency
  • Reduction in overall risk-taking attitudes
  • Increased desire to participate in group activities
  • Appreciation for completing tasks independently (goal setting)
  • Less time with electronic devices (cell phones, computer, video games, television)
  • Expanded social life and more friends
  • More respect for elders and supervisors
  • Heightened appreciation for various activities such as sports, art and music
  • Increased health and a more positive body image (self esteem)

How Much is Too Much?

With so many developmental benefits to afterschool activities, you may be tempted to enroll your child in many programs and clubs at once. Parents who work full time may not have an option other than afterschool activities five days a week.

However, recent studies indicate that while afterschool activities are beneficial to a child’s social and intellectual development, it is possible to go overboard. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of “The Over-Scheduled Child,” urges parents to find a balance in how they schedule their children’s time. He told the New York Times:

“Enrichment activities are perfect. They add a lot to kids’ lives. The problem is, we’ve lost the ability to balance them with down time, boring time.”

Unfortunately there is no magic number for how many afterschool activities is “overload.” Below are tips for determining if your children are not enjoying the activity:

  • When you pick your child up or drop him off at the activity, gauge how excited and happy he is. This is an indicator of how much he likes the program.
  • Does your child ever talk about the activities at home? If not, prompt him for feedback.
  • Is the motivation to participate in the club/sport coming from the child or you? Do you want him to participate? Does he want to?
  • Pay close attention to how you talk about the activity/sport to be sure you are not sending the message that the only thing that matters is winning, placing high or advancing to the next level.
  • Listen for signs that your child is basing his or her self worth on the performance of the activity.

Remember, you don’t want your child to experience everything before they graduate from elementary school. Not only is it easier on your pocket book, you should leave some for future exploration and experience. The bottom line: Schedule those afterschool activities, but don’t forget to schedule down time as well, it’s just as important.

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