Does extra-curricular mean extra stress?

Posted in: Family Last updated: 19 Feb 2014

If boredom is the emotional state felt by someone when they are left with nothing to do and no interest in their surroundings, ask yourself this: how often do you let your children get bored? For most people, growing up in the pre-digital age – from Generation X to Baby-boomer – being bored was an inherent part of childhood, often felt most acutely during the long summer holidays.

Boredom in children

Child psychologists, teachers and parents alike debate the pros and cons of how boredom manifests itself in children, and the value (or not) of it in their development. But this is one of those perpetual parenting dilemmas: advice is dished out but it's not always easy to apply in real life.

Because the truth is for most children there are just far fewer opportunities to be bored. To make our children reach this emotional state usually requires removing or banning something, be it the games console, computer, toy bucket, TV etc. They have far more stuff – both of the high and low tech variety – to occupy them. We got bored because there wasn't really anything to do!

Extra-curricular activities

Hand-in-hand with the boredom debate comes the one about extra-curricular activities. For parents with the financial wherewithal these days the children start while they're in nappies. If you're not swimming with them by six months, you're stunting their physical prowess; if you're not taking them to some form of baby music class, you'll be holding back their musical education... and so it goes.

The pressure only intensifies once they reach school age. Many a primary school now has a post-school timetable that's almost packed as that between 9am and 3.30pm and this doesn't let up at secondary. And even if you avoid the drama class, chess club, Kumon maths or extra French tuition, the most popular of childhood activities like football and ballet, take on an intensity and competitiveness at an alarmingly young age.

When I was young, I started playing hockey for the school at about age 11. Now, if your child hasn't been playing football in a team before this, then they'll have no chance of making the school squad. I started out with good intentions as a parent, determined to have 'free' weekends to just hang out with my kids, but as the kids got older it was a slow creep. The swimming classes on Saturday morning, soon followed by piano until I finally caved, accepted the inevitable, and Sunday morning football then completed the full set. Parents can, of course, opt out of this enforced leisure regimentation, but it's a strong person who swims against the tide of group-parent behaviour and the pressures of the playground. And the truth is, lots of these activities are great: they get really good sport coaching; get to hang out with their friends in a safe environment; go camping and learn new skills, or become proficient at something that would otherwise elude them.

But are all these extra-curricular activities character building for our children? Or simply stress-inducing for the parents? Not only do they cost a lot, they also require transportation, supervision and often support. Research carried out by Family Investments among more than 400 parents in October 2013 found that more than half of their children did sports clubs, followed by a fifth doing dance classes or Brownies/Cubs/Scouts/Guides clubs. Only one quarter said their children didn't do any organised clubs or classes outside school hours.

"... it's a strong person who swims against the tides of group-parent behaviour and the pressures of the playground."

Financial and time commitment

The hours these various extra activities occupy varies, with the majority doing five or less hours a week. While 60% said they spend £10 or less per week, it means that 40% are spending more than £10, which isn't insubstantial given the pressures of household budgets for many families. Just over a third (36%) spend between £11 and £30 per week. My observation of these figures is that there aren't, or can't be many respondents with more than one child doing music lessons, as music lessons do not come cheap.

To be fair, the biggest stress for parents of curricular activities is often the time and the organisation they require. Depending on where you live and your working situation, parents can quickly feel their main role is that of driver rather than anything else. It requires a commitment from both parent and child.

So what happened to good old-fashioned playing outside with their mates, climbing trees or kicking a ball in the street? Fear took hold. Nine out of ten of those questioned said they played outside without adult supervision as kids but 65% of them said that they are scared to let their children do the same. This is perhaps the most disheartening of the findings. Our children have been given the freedom of the tyranny of boredom but not the freedom to roam.

Written by Jane Bainbridge

Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Hub content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions. OneFamily do not provide advice so it may be worth speaking to an independent financial adviser about your own circumstances.