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Debate Club: Are Multiple Extracurricular Activities Good or Bad For Kids?


Too Many Extracurricular Activities Are Bad For Our Kids

By Sandi Schwartz

When was the last time your children came home from school and just played freely in the backyard? I’m guessing that sounds like a foreign concept. You’re probably asking, “What about taking them to dance class, art school, swim lessons, soccer practice, religious school, and that tutoring session just last week alone?” 

The over-scheduled childhood culture

Millions of children in the United States feel overwhelmed and pressured because of their over-scheduled lives. In a Psychology Today article, Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of “The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap,” explains how enrolling children in too many activities is a huge problem. Parents feel like they aren’t doing a good job if they don’t sign their children up for a variety of activities exposing them to sports, culture, religion, and everything else under the sun starting at a young age. But then the children are under so much pressure to compete with their peers and achieve “success.”

I learned my lesson the hard way – but luckily early enough before a major problem developed. When my son was in first grade, I signed him up for activities every day after school. I specifically remember that he had an activity on Monday and how much stress that caused him because he received his packet of homework for the entire week that day. There were many tears during that time because he wasn’t able to start his homework until close to dinner; he worried that he wouldn’t have enough time to complete his work. We decided then that it was a good idea to keep Monday clear to ease into the school week and to minimize his activities overall.

What do we sacrifice when we overschedule our children?

Yes, we want our kids to socialize and learn new skills. However, when we over-book them, they suffer. Here are just three aspects of our children’s lives that get pushed aside when we overschedule their days.

Health

Stress and anxiety play a big role in our children’s lives today. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), it’s estimated that 1 in 8 children suffers from an anxiety disorder. More worrisome, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25 percent of teens ages 13-18 will experience some form of anxiety. 

Much of this stress is because children are not getting enough down time. They’re being carted around from one activity to another, unable to calm their mind and simply play. Peter Gray, author of the book “Free to Learn,” ties this lack of free play to the increase in children suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.

Creativity

Being creative involves having the time to explore and grow. When we’re creative, we become so absorbed in our work that we reach a meditative state of flow. How will our children have the chance to be creative if they are constantly rushing between structured activities?

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a developmental and clinical psychologist, believes that “…children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no ‘nothing time.’ They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen. In our efforts to produce Renaissance children who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity.”

Self-awareness

Children need time in their day to simply be themselves. This allows them to get in touch with their emotions and to ultimately figure out who they are and what they want to become. They need calm, quiet moments for mindfulness and introspection. They also need time to explore topics in depth without time constraints, curriculum, and scores. When children are involved in too many different activities, they sacrifice breadth for depth and miss out on opportunities for authentic self-discovery.

How to navigate our children’s schedules

In the end, it’s all about balance. As parents, we need to learn what our children can handle and what they want – not what we think is best for their college applications. This does not mean you need to take your children out of all their activities. Try limiting the amount of time spent in extracurricular activities and choosing them wisely. For example, we decided that baseball was not going to work for my son because it required a commitment of three days per week. We also just pulled my daughter out of a wonderful dance studio to attend dance at her school because it alleviates unnecessary travel time.

The bottom line: keep tabs on what makes your children happy and be sure they’re getting plenty of unscheduled down time.

Multiple Extracurricular Activities are Good for Our Kids

By Cheryl Maguire

“I’m bored,” my 11-year-old daughter grumbled as she collapsed on to the couch. It was a rare unscheduled moment in her life. I cringed as I recalled what can occur when she has a spontaneous second. At the age of three, I assumed she was quietly playing with her toys only to discover the entire wall was covered with a new crayon mural. We are both happier now that she’s enrolled in art classes.

She prefers being busy which is why she partook in six different extracurricular activities this past spring. Her interests ranged from sign language class to swim team. Besides avoiding boredom (and messes) there are many benefits to having scheduled activities for your child. Research by the National Center for Education Statistics states that students who participated in after-school activities had better attendance, higher levels of achievement, and aspirations to higher levels of education.

Better academic performance

Even though my daughter was in six different clubs or sports, she received all A’s in her academic classes. By participating in extracurricular activities, a child is able to learn new skills which can then be applied to the school setting. For example my daughter was in the garden club and she used the information she learned about plants in her science class. Sports such as basketball, baseball, and football use statistics, addition and subtraction, probability, and geometry which can be applied to math class.

A number of research studies found students who participate in extracurricular activities perform better in school. Reeves studied data at Woodstock High School in Woodstock, Illinois and found students who were in three or four extracurricular activities during the year had dramatically better grades than those who participated in no extracurricular activities. Another study, this one by the College Board, found that high school extracurricular participation is correlated with higher SAT scores; SAT math by 45 points and SAT verbal scores by 53 points.

Adaptability

If a child is participating in more than one activity, they will also experience more than one coach or teacher who will have different rules and expectations. They’ll have the opportunity to meet kids with a range of personalities and interests. These interactions will teach a child how to be adaptable to multiple people and situations.

Salvortore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba’s training guide, “Resilience at Work,” discusses the importance of being adaptable. The authors found that when adaptable people lost their jobs, they thrived due to their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Being adaptable is a skill that will benefit your in school and well beyond graduation. 

Better social skills

Children will gain social skills both from the person in charge of the activity or sport and by interacting with their peers. They also have the opportunity to learn about teamwork by playing a sport or participating in a group effort like the class musical. 

In my daughter’s book club includes social time after their discussion of the assigned book. Much like a lot of grown-ups I know, even when she hasn’t read the book, she still wants to go to the club because she loves the social interaction with her peers.

Less screen time

According to Common Sense Media, the average teen spend over nine hours a day playing video games or watching TV. If children are participating in after-school activities they will have way less time to do either of those things.

Decreased risk of obesity

Obesity affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents – a figure that has remained steady for the past decade.

Participating in an active after-school activity, like a sports team, is one obvious way to help lower your child’s risk of obesity.

Use your judgement

Sometimes, even for my daughter, you can have too many activities. I’m always cognizant of her energy level. If she needs to skip an activity once in a while, I let her. Or when I noticed she wasn’t enthusiastic about going to gymnastics anymore, we both decided it would be best not to sign up for the next session. Most importantly, you want to make sure your child is happy and definitely not bored.

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Going back to work after having a baby is hard. Regaining your footing in a world where working mothers are so often penalized is tough, and (just like most things during the postpartum period) it takes time.

The challenges we face as working women returning from a maternity leave can be so different from those we faced before, it can feel like we're starting over from scratch. But mothers will not be deterred, even if our return to the working world doesn't go exactly as planned.

We are resilient, as Serena Williams proved at Wimbledon this weekend.

She lost to Angelique Kerber in the final, just 10 months after welcoming daughter Alexis Olympia and recovering from a physically and emotionally traumatic birth experience.

Williams didn't get her eighth Wimbledon title this weekend, but when we consider all the challenges she (and all new moms) faced in resuming her career, her presence was still a huge achievement.

"It was such an amazing tournament for me, I was really happy to get this far!" Williams explained in an emotional post-match interview.

"For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried. I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

The loss at Wimbledon isn't what she wanted, of course, but Williams says it does not mean there won't be wins in her near future.

"These two weeks have showed me I can really compete and be a contender to win grand slams. This is literally just the beginning. I took a giant step at Wimbledon but my journey has just began."

When asked what she hopes other new moms take away from her journey, Williams noted her postpartum recovery was really difficult, and hopes that other moms who face challenges early in motherhood know that they don't have to give up on whatever dreams they have for themselves, whether it involves working or not.

"Honestly, I feel like if I can do it, they can do it. I'm just that person, that vessel that's saying, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' If you want to go back to workand to me, after becoming a mom, I feel like there's no pressure to do that because having a child is a completely full-time job," she said.

"But to those that do want to go back, you can do it, you can really do it."

Thank you, Serena. You may not have won, but this was still a victory.

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Since baby Crew became the newest member of Chip and Joanna Gaines' family three weeks ago, his proud parents have been keeping the world updated, sharing sweet snaps of their youngest and even giving us a glimpse into his nursery.

Now, Chip Gaines is showing off a pic that proves there is nothing cuter than a floppy, sleepy baby.

"My heart is full..." the proud father of five captioned the photo he posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Earlier this week Crew's mama shared how she gets him so sleepy in the first place, posting an Instagram Story showing how she walks around the family's gardens on their Waco, Texas farm to lull her newborn boy to sleep.



The couple are clearly enjoying every single moment of Crew's babyhood. As recently as 7 days ago Chip was still sporting his hospital bracelet. Joanna says with each child he's worn his maternity ward ID until it finally wears off. We can't blame Chip for wanting to make the newborn phase last as long as possible.

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It was a changing table must-have a generation ago, but these days, many parents are forgoing baby powder, and now, the leading manufacturer of the sweet smelling powder was dealt a big financial blow.

Johnson & Johnson was just ordered to pay almost $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued, alleging baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.

A St. Louis jury says the women are right, but what does The American Academy of Pediatrics say about baby powder?

It was classified "a hazard" before many of today's parents were even born

The organization has actually been recommending against baby powder for years, but not due to cancer risks, but inhalation risks.

Way back in 1981 the AAP declared baby powder "a hazard," issuing a report pointing out the frequency of babies aspirating the powder, which can be dangerous and even fatal in the most severe cases.

That warning didn't stop all parents from using the powder though, as its continued presence on store shelves to this day indicates.

In 1998 Dr. Hugh MacDonald, then the director of neonatology at Santa Monica Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, told the Los Angeles Times "Most pediatricians recommend that it not be used," adding that the consensus at the time was that "anybody using talcum powder be aware that it could cause inhalation of the talc, resulting in a pneumonic reaction."

Recent updates

A 2015 update to the AAP's Healthy Children website suggests the organization was even very recently still more concerned about the risk of aspiration than cancer risks like those alleged in the lawsuit. It suggests that parents who choose to use baby powder "pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from baby's face [as] published reports indicate that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs."

In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Dr. David Soma, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Hospital, explained that baby powder use had decreased a lot over the previous five to eight years, but he didn't believe it was going to disappear from baby shower gift baskets any time soon.

"There are a lot of things that are used out of a matter of tradition, or the fact it seems to work for specific children," he said. "I'm not sure if it will get phased out or not, until we know more about the details of other powders and creams and what works best for skin conditions—I think it will stick around for a while."

Talc-based baby powder is the kind alleged to have caused ovarian cancer in the lawsuit (which Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal), but corn starch varieties of baby powder are also available and not linked to increased cancer risks as alleged in the case.


Bottom line: If you are going to use baby powder on your baby's bottom, make sure they're not getting a cloud of baby powder in their face, and if you're concerned, talk to your health care provider about alternative methods and products to use on your baby's delicate skin.

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In the days since a The New York Times report revealed a resolution meant to encourage breastfeeding was blocked by U.S. delegates at the World Health Assembly, breastfeeding advocates, political pundits, parents, doctors—and just about everyone else—have been talking about breastfeeding, and whether or not America and other countries are doing enough to support it.

The presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians say the controversy at the World Health Assembly reveals that mothers need more support when it comes to breastfeeding, while others, including The Council on Foreign Relations, suggest the national conversation needs more nuance, and less focus on the "breast is best" rhetoric.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that parents need more support when it comes to infant feeding, and in that respect, the controversy over the World Health Assembly resolution may be a good thing.

In their joint letter to the editor published in the New York Times this week, the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians, Dr. Colleen Kraft and Dr. Lisa Hollier urge "the United States and every country to protect, promote and support breast-feeding for the health of all women, children and families."

The doctors go on to describe how breastfeeding "provides protection against newborn, infant and child infections, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and sudden infant death syndrome," and note the health benefits to mothers, including reduced risks for "breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

"Helping mothers to breastfeed takes a multifaceted approach, including advancing public policies like paid family leave, access to quality child care, break time and a location other than a bathroom for expressing milk," say Kraft and Hollier.

Certainly such policies would support breastfeeding mothers (and all mothers) in America, but some critics say framing the discussion around domestic policy is a mistake, because the World Health Assembly resolution is a global matter and women and babies in other parts of the world face very different feeding challenges than we do here at home.

In an op-ed published by CNN, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations suggests the laudable goal of breastfeeding promotion can backfire when mothers in conflict-riddled areas can't access formula due to well-meaning policy. Lemmon points to a 2017 statement by Doctors Without Borders calling for fewer barriers to formula distribution in war-torn areas.

"International organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) promote breastfeeding ... and provide infant formula, but only by prescription. We believe that distributing infant formula in a conflict situation like Iraq is the only way to avoid children having to be hospitalized for malnutrition," Manuel Lannaud, the head of Doctors Without Borders Iraq mission wrote.

The various viewpoints presented this week prove that infant feeding is not a black and white issue, and policy debates should not be framed as formula versus breast milk—there is more nuance than that.

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics found opting to supplement with formula after first breastfeeding improves outcomes for infants and results in higher rates of breastfeeding afterward, and while the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, they are sometimes overstated. Another recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found breastfeeding has no impact on a child's overall neurocognitive function by the time they are 16. Basically, parents should not be shamed for supplementing or choosing to use formula.

This, according to Department of Health and Human Services says national spokesperson Caitlin Oakley is why the HHS opposed the original draft of the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly (although critics and the initial NYT report suggest the United States delegation were acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers).

"Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies," Oakley said in a statement.

That's true, but so is everything the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians presented in their op-ed, and that's why the U.S. should support breastfeeding policy.

Here's another truth: This is an issue with many perspectives and many voices. And we need to hear them all, because all parents need support in feeding their babies, whether it's with a breast, a bottle or both—and we're not getting it yet.

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