Where Has The Fun Gone? A Look At Today’s Over-scheduled Children

by Julie M.

The amount of scheduled activity that children are involved in today has dramatically increased compared to past generations. Today’s norm in parenting seem to be focused on starting kids off early in organized activities or sport. This is leaving children tired and stressed from having to balance their scheduled activities along with everything else they have on their plate.

The many structured activities that children are signed up for has to come from some other aspect of their life such as family time or simply time having fun on their own. Family time is becoming less and less frequent. This jeopardizes the development of family bonds and signals to children that family is less important than their structured activity or sport. Some parents even think they are failing their child if they allow them to simply go off and have fun at some unstructured activity. The concept of having fun has now become a scheduled component for children with “fun activities” being included as part of their structured events. Children being told when to have fun will, tend to see it as less and less fun and eventually may look to drop out of such activities on the first opportunity they have.

Parents today are highly involved in their children’s lives to the point that their role has been dubbed “hyper parenting”. The intentions of “hyper parents” can sometimes become unclear as some parents start to see development as advancing their child. Parents need to have a better understanding of all aspects of child development before pushing children to higher and higher levels. Extreme training at a young age can increase the risk of physical and psychological issues later on. When children have not developed all of their muscle or bone mass, they can cause serious and long lasting damage from training to hard. Putting excessive pressures on children at young ages can also cause considerable psychological concerns throughout their development. Parents that push their children too hard can also create an environment where their children won’t even tell them how they truly feel as they already know what the parent expects. Children need to feel their opinion matters and they need to feel comfortable expressing it.

Parents need to understand there is such a thing as “too much”. While there are benefits from some structured activity, too much can have a negative effect on children and on child development. Children need time and personal space to support their positive development. They need to be able to choose their own activities, explore their own interests, and develop their own personality at their pace. There needs to be a balance between to their structured activities and other aspect of their lives. Parents just need to “slow down” and let their kids be kids more often. Their kids will most likely respond by developing into competent and well-rounded individuals.

Rosenfeld, A. (March 01, 2004). Harvard, Soccer and Over-Scheduled Families. Youth Studies Australia, 23, 1, 15-18.

Rosenfeld, A., & Wise, N. (April 01, 2001). The over-scheduled child: Avoiding the hyper-parenting trap. Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 17, 4.

This entry was posted in Parents, Positive Youth Development and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Where Has The Fun Gone? A Look At Today’s Over-scheduled Children

  1. mfergunb says:

    I definitely agree that children should be able to choose their own activities at their own pace rather than having their parents force multiple programs onto them. As it was discussed in class, there is a difference between entering a child into an Under 5 basketball program and communicating with the child that this is what he/she actually enjoys. Exposing children to the various options out there for physical and leisure activities should be the first step. Having a room full of different sports equipment, musical instruments, designing tools and so on not only offers them a diversity of options, but also allows them to be creative and “play”; a word that is becoming more unfamiliar and unattainable for youth. The more structured the child’s life becomes, the less time they have to explore what other options are out there for them.

  2. erikaermen says:

    I think that this article has great prevalence with the current youth generation, Generation Z. These youth seem to always have an activity after school, rather than having the time for free play with their friends or family.

    This is decreasing the amount of positive leisure experiences that children should be experiencing with their families, and can create a distressed family environment. In psychological terms, a distressed family environment is when one member of the family tends to feel overpowered by others and that there may be more relationships based on dyads, two person relationship, rather than the family acting as a team. In the case of over scheduling our youth, the child or adolescent in the family dynamic may feel that they are being forced to take part in these organized activities. Whereas, if parents would have been able to integrate recreation and sport in a positive way, the child may feel less tension with the family and allow for a more healthy family environment.

    We can only hope that in time parents will start to see that the “fun” part in sport and recreation need to be put at the top of list rather than the competitive or physical health aspect. Because once children have fun in recreation ans sport they will become healthier and will want to stay in sport long, and will create a healthy family dynamic with their future family.

  3. katelynpeters2014 says:

    Parents definitely need to realize the benefits and risks that derive from unstructured play as well as structured activity.

    I read a blog describing the benefits and risks of both structured and unstructured activity. It is astonishing to see how much unstructured activity can exemplify such crucial assets in a child.

    Children whom do not experience unstructured activities as a child lose the ability to gain critical thinking skills, imagination assets, creativity, conflict negotiation and resolution problems. When children are constantly being told what to do and when to do it they lose the ability to develop their independent thinking skills that will foster into being a positive, productive adult.
    There was such a huge push over the last decade for children to be involved in every sport out there if they are going to be a positive asset to this world and make it through school, going on to college.Parents and coaches must find a happy medium between these two activities for the overall benefit of the child.

    From personal experience, both unstructured and structured play need to be incorporated with one another. What coaches and parents both need to have an understanding of is that structured programs can be used in a way to incorporate the benefits of unstrcutured play. Coaches can do simple things like allowing a child to pick an activity at practices or allowing them leadership roles in the activities.

    Blog mentioned in this post:
    Nelson, S. (July 31, 2012). Play: Structured or Unstructured? BlogSpot.Retreived from;

  4. I think parents are pushing their kids to be in as many structured activities or sports because they want them to excel in a sport and be successful. I agree that parents need to realize that there is such a thing as too much. Just like the documentary we watched in class, where a girl has to do her homework in the car traveling from one sport to the next. This is a sign that your child is over scheduled. Just like it was mentioned, kids need to have fun and be able to make positive youth development. We need to allow them to do what they want and have free time. During this time they are able to be creative in their own ways allowing them to develop stronger cognitive assets.

    I understand that physical activity is important while growing up but there’s times where your child needs time to himself/herself. When I was growing up, being raised in a country that revolves around soccer, that’s the sport I only played. I looked up to my dad as he had a chance to go professional so that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel over scheduled because I was only concentrated on one sport, but at times it was too hard to handle. I can only imagine how children feel when they have to play more than 3 sports at a time. Being in a structured activity can help them develop essential skills such as communication, thinking assets, learning to control their emotions, and developing relationships.

    Overall parents should allow their kids to pick what sport they want to play, and if they only want to play one sport than that should be fine. That only means that they will have more free time to focus on school, the sport and more importantly themselves. This will allow for positive youth development.

  5. draywells says:

    Awesome blog post Julie, I completely agree it is crazy nowadays how much parents are wanting their kids to be doing structured activity and being put in multiple sports, parents are constantly driving around dropping children off having the children eat in the car and do their homework in the car it is way too much for a children to be doing, especially after they just had a long day at school. As children this is the time of their life where they shouldn’t have to be on the go 24/7. Although being in structured activity has many benefits, parents have to realize that too much of it is not necessarily a good thing. Unstructured activity has just as many benefits that we should be aware of. It is necessary for positive youth development and to have the choice to do what they want can help them better in the future for making decisions on their own. I know someone that has their boy in about 4 different sports each season he is constantly moving from place to place, he recently broke his foot but he said this is a relief for him because he finally gets some time to relax which is really sad for a 12 year old boy to say. Hopefully parents start to realize to calm down a bit.

  6. emilymckim says:

    Great post Julie!

    I agree, parents these days have lost the meaning of sport participation. All they are concerned with is making sure their child is “the best”. When I was young sport was a way to interact with other youth and have fun and it was a bonus that you got physical activity out of participating. Now it is a race to the finish line for parents, who can get their child into the NHL first. Sport has lost its true value of fun and enjoyment and has turned into a job. Parents are putting so much pressure on their children to succeed and excel in a certain sport that they have forgotten about their child’s well being. I believe parents need to support and motivate their youth to participate in a sport that they are passionate about. If the child is not enjoying their sporting experience this may result in a negative attitude towards sports and physical activity as these children grow up. Also if they are not enjoying their experience or really making a true connection with the sport and the team, the youth will not acquire as many developmental assets as they would if they were passionate and enjoying their sport participation.

    I coach a swimmer who two years ago was extremely motivated to do well. She wanted to make the Olympic team and really succeed at a high level. She worked very hard to achieve her best. Behind the scenes her mother was pushing her very hard and not in an encouraging way. She pushed this swimmer so hard that she has lost her passion and motivation and she now just drags around at practice and we can tell she does not really care anymore. This is very sad. Every child deserves a positive sporting experience and deserves to be supported and encourage by the adults around them.

    Emily M

Comments are closed.