Parents could be harming their children by pushing them to attend too many after school clubs, according to research.
A study has revealed the extent to which family life revolves around extracurricular activities and there are worries it could be damaging relationships at home.
Families are feeling the physical and financial strain as nearly nine in ten children take part in organised activities on four to five evenings per week.
Pressure from other parents and schools adds to families feeling like their children need to have a busy schedule, meaning families spend less time together at home.
‘A busy organised activity schedule can put considerable strain on parents’ resources and families’ relationships, as well as potentially harm children’s development and wellbeing,’ said study leader Dr Sharon Wheeler.
88 per cent of children took part in extracurricular activities on four or five evenings per week, and 58 per cent do more than one in a single evening – one expert says the trend could be doing more harm than good
How the research was carried out
Researchers at York St John University interviewed nearly 50 families from 12 primary schools in north-west England about their children’s extracurricular activities.
They found 88 per cent of children had activities on four or five weeknights, with 58 per cent doing more than one in one evening.
Activities included Scouts and Guides, music, football, cricket, rugby, art, drama, chess and swimming.
The study showed that the children’s extracurricular activities dominated family life, particularly when they had two or more children.
The findings are published in the journal Sport, Education and Society.
Pressured parents and ‘knackered’ children
The study’s authors blamed pressure from schools and other families for parents pushing their children to do multiple activities and causing ‘unprecedented strain’.
One mother referred to ‘knackered’ children who ‘don’t get in until 9 or 10pm’, admitting that she was ‘sadly, over the moon’ when something was cancelled.
Dr Wheeler said: ‘We know that parents are particularly keen to ensure their children get on in life.
‘Parents initiate and facilitate their children’s participation in organised activities as it shows that they are ‘good’ parents.
DIET MAKES CHILDREN PERFORM BETTER
Parents do all kinds of things to help their children get top marks in school.
But before you splash out on a tutor, consider this: research shows a child’s diet can dramatically affect their IQ.
Children who eat fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains in their first three years of school do far better in tests than their peers with poor diets, a study in September found.
The findings, from the University of Eastern Finland, were independent of children’s socio-economic status, physical fitness, and body type.
‘They hope that such activities will benefit their children in both the short-term (by keeping them fit and healthy, and helping them to develop friendship groups) and longer-term (by improving their job prospects).’
Parents are running low on money and energy because of their children’s hectic lifestyles, the researchers found, and they have less quality time as a family.
Multiple car ownership and a rise in busy working mums may be contributing to the popularity of extra-curricular activities.
‘More harm than good’
However, Dr Wheeler says children should not be overloaded.
She said: ‘Raising awareness of this issue can help those parents who feel under pressure to invest in their children’s organized activities.
‘It can help those who are concerned with the impact of such activities on their family to have the confidence to plan a less hectic schedule for their children.
‘Until a healthy balance is struck, extracurricular activities will continue to take precedence over family time, potentially doing more harm than good.’
Toddlers get stressed away from home
Past research has shown that family time is especially important to young children, who become more stressed if they spend too long in childcare.
A study in 2017 found the stress levels of toddlers in creches are around a third higher than those who stay at home.
While children at home with a parent become more relaxed over the course of the day, those in childcare grow more anxious.
It is suggested that this is because they miss their parents and have upsetting conflicts with other children.