Are You Too Busy?
This article first appeared in Spanish in the pages of Madeworthy magazine.
It’s weeks into school, and the days pass so quickly that it’s hard to remember what your family did just a few days ago. Every waking hour is filled to the brim with activities: school, homework, playdates, screen time, sports, music lessons, ballet, more homework, and then finally, sleep. Perhaps you’ve noticed a change in your child’s behavior. Maybe YOU’RE exhausted too. Do you ever wonder how much is too much?
So how much homework should your child be doing? The National PTA recommends ten minutes per grade level per night, e.g., 30 minutes for third grade, 120 minutes for twelfth. Research shows that anything beyond this can have an adverse effect on academic performance. If your child is overwhelmed, review your school’s homework policy and discuss it with their teacher. Together you may be able to create a plan that will satisfy everyone. Homework loads will vary greatly by school, grade, and teacher, but one thing is constant: it must get done and therefore must be a priority. Set a designated time and place for homework, and be consistent. Allow for some downtime and something to eat. Be sure to allow breaks as needed.
The plain fact is that there is no set limit of time your child should spend on extracurricular activities. Every family and every child is different. Let the behavior of the child be your guide. If they are lacking motivation, anxious, or if their self-esteem is negatively affected by the pressure of the activity, maybe it’s time to ask yourself why they are participating. If you suspect your child is over-burdened, Dr. David Hill, FAAP, author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro recommends parents and children sit down and rank extracurricular activities. Whatever falls at the bottom, eliminate it. At the end of the day, these enrichment activities should be meaningful or help them reach future goals. If they are leading nowhere, their time will be better spent doing something else.
It goes without saying that not all screen time is created equal. It can be passive, creative, interactive, or communicative. High-quality screen time can be a very useful tool. However, it can negatively affect your child’s behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides some practical guidelines for appropriate screen usage. For children ages two and up, only one hour of screen time a day is recommended. To limit usage, it is recommended that families have designated media-free times, such as family mealtime, and media-free zones, such as bedrooms. Parents may find it helpful to create personalized ‘media plans’ for each child which account for their age, health, and personality.
We know that play is essential to the cognitive, physical, and social development of youngsters. Idleness is considered to be a waste of time, but is it? According to Dr. Ken Ginsburg, FAAP, child-driven play or downtime enables children to be creative, resilient, learn valuable social and decision-making skills, and allows them to ‘prune’ those interests and strengths that later will become an intricate part of WHO they become as adults. Boredom is not the enemy. Dr. Ginsburg says, “As long as there is dirt in the ground and clouds in the sky, your child should learn how not to become bored. That is how play and downtime can build creativity and innovation.” It is also necessary to ‘reboot’ the brain and body for optimal learning in more structured activities. Importantly, play allows for you as a parent to learn about and connect with your child. There is no rule about how much play is required for healthy development. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Mayo Clinic all recommend at least 30-60 minutes of outdoor free play a day.
Your intuition as a parent will help you to decide for your family how to spend your most valuable commodity, your time. Watch for signs of stress and make adjustments needed to create a balance. Your kids will only have one childhood, but if you make time for what is truly important to your family, you will be happy, which is the ultimate definition of success.
Christy Ortiz is a Fort Worth native, and is proud to say so. She earned her bachelor’s degree from UT Arlington in Interdisciplinary Studies. She taught for FWISD for eight busy years before switching gears to stay home with her two small children. Her hobbies are interior decorating for friends, photography, and flying kites with her kids. Her South American roots and love for the Spanish language and Latin cultures add to the diverse voices of our group.