Is the Overscheduled Gifted Child Just a Myth?

For years, parents have been warned about the dangers of overscheduling their kids. Critics of overscheduling say that it leads to stress and burnout. But is that true for all young people?

Laura Vanderkam's op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, The Myth of the Overscheduled Child, argues that many kids like being challenged and busy—and often, it's good for them. Like many of us, students are happiest when they throw themselves into meaningful projects such as practicing with a sports team to improve their game, or performing independent computer science research. They enjoy making progress toward their goals.

In USA Today's College All-Stars Gifted in Class and Beyond, plenty of examples are provided of gifted college students who excel not only in academics, but also in outside interests. The college students profiled in the article keep busy with hobbies, sports, and community service, and they all juggle these activities efficiently.

Perhaps the success of a highly scheduled child is at least partially due to his or her ability to self-regulate. Self-regulation is the ability to stop, think, make a plan, and control one’s impulses. These skills are necessary for success in school and in life. They can also help a young person manage a busy existence. After all, the ability to control one’s impulses is critical for choosing constructive projects over nonconstructive activities. The capacity to problem solve is also essential to productively organizing those activities.

Certain widespread practices of modern parenting don't help older children learn to master themselves. We hate to see children make mistakes or, worse, fail, and so rather than challenge children and teens to self-regulate, parents often choose to make decisions themselves and “rescue” young people from their mistakes. Parents often "help" their kids with science fair projects, and check their homework before it's turned in. Rather than allow kids to plan their own course of study, they mark kids' tests on the parents’ calendars. When a child forgets her homework, well-meaning moms and dads race to school with the forgotten assignments. It would probably be more helpful to coach the child to solve her own problems. Helping one’s child so much may have positive immediate outcomes, but in the long run the self-regulation skills of kids are undermined.

Perhaps by improving self-regulation in children, overscheduling does not become an issue; instead, young people are able to fit a variety of challenging academic, community, and personal interests into tight schedules. We can feel confident that our kids will understand how to do this in a positive, satisfying manner.

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