When is enough really enough?
That's the question more children and their parents are asking when it comes to balancing school related activities, academics, and the time in between.
The Baumer family, of Penfield, has four daughters ages 8 to 12 who juggle a variety of different after-school activities. This often leaves little time in the day for family bonding, explains mom, Gretchen.
“We eat together most nights, but we don’t do it at 5 or 6 o’clock,” she said. “It’s between 8 and 9. Most often, the girls are getting up from the dinner table and going to bed.”
The girls say they like their busy routine, however.
Anna, 12, who’s in seventh grade, swims and plays lacrosse at Bay Trail Middle School. She’s also in the yearbook club and works as stage manager for the school play.
In her spare time, she participates in Girl Scouts and volunteers at the library. She said it can be hard to say no to clubs or activities that interest her.
“A lot of times I need to hold myself back from things because I know I can barely handle what’s going on now, or I don’t have enough time to do anything else.”
Molly, 10, a fifth-grader, plays on two different lacrosse in addition to intramural sports after school. Her twin sisters, Sarah and Katie, 8, are also Girl Scouts and take part in things like swimming, soccer, and school band.
Their parents have made one thing clear: Schoolwork always comes first.
Each of the girls uses a day planner to help keep track of homework assignments. Molly said one benefit of keeping busy is that it helps you stay organized.
“When you have sports like this, it makes you stay on track so you can plan out your whole day,” said Molly.
The old college try
For high school students, the pressure to be well-rounded can sometimes put them at a disadvantage.
Brandon Fox is a counselor at Penfield High School. He said students often make the mistake of taking on too much in hopes of impressing college admissions officials with a long list of clubs, sports, and extracurriculars.
"I see those kids who, when you look at their resume, you wonder how many hours they have in the day," said Fox, who also coaches boys golf and modified volleyball.
While colleges may tend to accept students who can show they are well-rounded and academically fit for the next level, Fox said this can sometimes put kids at a disadvantage.
"It's a tough conversation because they are not only aware of what they're doing but what their peers are doing, so they can become very competitive."
Page 2 of 3 - On the other hand, there are students who, although strong academically, wait until the end of their high school experience to get involved in some sort of activity.
"I have plenty of kids whom I'd like to see do more and kids who really spread themselves thin," said Fox. "It's interesting working with both groups. They need help in both directions."
The good and bad
There is plenty of research that supports child involvement in group activities, especially when these are structured and monitored.
Dr. Michelle Swanger-Gagne Ph.D. is a licensed school and family psychologist who works at University of Rochester Medical Center and General Behavior Pediatrics at Rochester General Hospital. She provides family and individual youth therapy for children and adolescents.
Research has shown that children, especially adolescents, who participate in sports and extracurriculars are more likely to have a sense of purpose, excel academically, build social skills. They are also less likely to show signs of depression, Gagne said.
“Using extracurricular activities to help the child develop their identify and figure out what they’re good at and help them be around positive kids — All those reasons for partpng are important,” said Gagne.
Parents should be concerned when the busy lifestyle has a negative impact on the family as a whole.
“One of the things I always ask the family is how much of this is disrupting the family’s routine, and how much it’s impacting their stress level, and not just that individual child,” she said.
The structure of the home can be altered when regular rituals like eating dinner together become less frequent.
Parents should be wary of signs that their children have too much on their plate. If they seem irritable, anxious, depressed or see their grades dropping, it’s probably time to cut back.
“Once you’re seeing that they’re so overly stressed an exhausted that they don’t seem like the same kid, you should start being concerned,” said Gagne. “The balance is hard to find.”
A labor of love
Mike and Gretchen Baumer say the constant running from place to place for their daughters is usually hectic, but they don’t consider it a burden. Even when it means going to swim meets and lacrosse games on the weekends.
“We try to get involved with the stuff they do,” said Mike, who coaches girls lacrosse. His wife is also a Girl Scout and youth group leader.
The parents say that keeping up with their kids isn’t a burden, thanks to support from their family members, who help with child care, and their peers who are in the same boat.
Quiet family time isn’t the norm, but that’s OK.
Page 3 of 3 - “We don’t complain about it,” said Gretchen. “It’s not a drudgery because we want to be involved with things the kids want to be involved with,” adding, “The folks we know and spend time with are running from place to place. I’m not sure if every family is like that but the ones in our network are all doing the same thing.”