How much is too much for young kids?

 

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Ballet recital for my daughter in royal blue before swimming took over their lives.

I read a question from a mom wondering what to do because her eight-year-old doesn’t love swim practice as much as the other activities she’s doing. She wondered if anyone else had experienced this and what she should do. She also mentioned that her daughter is really good at swimming, wins ribbons, and also has tons of other activities.

 

How many activities are too much for a child? From CNN several years ago I read “Overscheduled kids, anxious parents” by Josh Levs:

“Parents need to teach their kids to balance human doing with human being,” said clinical psychologist Paula Bloom.
Kids need to know they’re not defined by what they do, she said. They need time to play, experiment, rest and figure out who they are.
“As parents, we’ve got to get over our anxiety that we’re not doing enough. Creating a sense of safety, helping kids have confidence to try certain things, those are the things that matter.”
As kids get older, they’ll show you more and more what they’re interested in, Bloom notes.
And, yes, we all make mistakes.
“As adults, your kids are going to tell their therapists, ‘Oh my parents never let me play piano,’ or some other activity. It’s going to happen. Being able to tolerate that is really important.”

When my kids were little, I kept them really busy. We didn’t have a neighborhood where they could go out the door and play. We had to schedule playdates. Then we got into signing them up with their friends for countless activities like tennis, golf, ballet and swimming lessons. One mom would say she heard about an activity and wanted to sign her child up if mine did, too. Pretty soon, my kids didn’t have a night after school without a scheduled activity.

When I was a kid, I’d go home after school and after 30 minutes to an hour of homework, I didn’t have too much to do. I think a lot of downtime allowed me to be creative, reflective and of course, hit that list of chores that Mom always left us to do.

What did we do without structured activities? Sometimes, my brother and I would fight. But mostly we made forts in the woods, whacked out trails with machetes through blackberry brambles, and rode bikes around a three-mile loop. We were pretty active and unsupervised with our imaginations running wild.

Advice for the mom of the eight-year-old? I think eight years old is pretty young to be committed to one sport—especially if she’s not wildly passionate about it and wants to do something else. Let her experience a variety of activities. Maybe swim seasonally or take a break and go back to it. We can’t want it more than our kids.

There’s plenty of time at eight-years-old for a child to be a child. There’s plenty of time for a year-round commitment in the years ahead. And maybe it won’t be in swimming.

Here’s a list from Kidspot from Bron Maxabella from an article called “How many extra-curricular activities should kids do?”

Signs the kids have too much on:

However, there are signs that are madly flashing to say we’ve overstretched ourselves. They may even be saying that we’re heading for a giant crash. Here are some of them:

  • The kids have started digging in about not going to the classes I want them to go to (still happy to go to their choices though!).
  • Each week feels like I’m on the rat wheel, driving from one place to another and arranging one child to go in that direction and another to go over there. The logistics are making my head spin.
  • The kids are doing a lot of things, but not many of them at their full potential.
  • There is only one school night a week (Friday) when no one has anything on.
  • There is hardly any time to just hang out together or have a mate over after school – this is probably the worst thing of all.
  • We don’t have enough time in the week to get homework done satisfactorily.
  • The kids are getting emotional and naughty because they’re tired, so everyone is crying and yelling far more than they should be.
  • It is getting harder and harder for the kids to unwind at night and even harder for them to get up in the morning.

Basically, by mid-term everyone is exhausted and by end-of-term we’re in a bit of a mess! The kids are tired, I’m tired, the whole routine is tired. We need a proper time out!

 

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My kids did have time to play super heroes.

How many days a week should kids have activities and how do you determine what is too much?

 

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The not-so-funny truth about helicopter parents

 

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The goal is to raise happy, healthy kids who experience failure at times so they can also experience success.

 

I often joke that I’m a recovering helicopter parent. But, it’s not that funny after all. It’s important to raise kids who can handle the curve balls life throws at them. By not allowing our kids to fail, we’re robbing them of the ability to learn, grow, and understand hard work. Not only that, but studies show that kids with helicopter parents suffer more from anxiety and depression.

In an article in USA Today by Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed. called “How to help your adult children find success,” it appears success comes most often after failure. So, if we’re not allowing our kids the chance to fail, how will they be successful later in life?

Here are a few tips from the article:

“In a study reported in Psychology Today, the majority of children with helicopter parents have higher anxiety and view life’s challenges as being more daunting than those with more hands-off moms and dads. So what can we do, as parents, to truly support career success in our children? Psychiatrist Joel Young, M.D., suggests these strategies:

“Rather than sharing your goals and wishes for your child, listen to theirs. This builds their skills in independent thought and critical thinking, and sidesteps imposing your values on them.

“When your child receives a consequence, such as not getting hired for a job you think they’d excel in, don’t try to intervene to change the outcome.

“Avoid being your adult child’s keeper and don’t remind them of deadlines. By middle school, they should have learned to stay on top of their to-do lists.

“Instead of offering your solutions to their career challenges, encourage your child to come up with remedies on their own.”

Honestly, is there anything worse than watching your kids suffer, feel hurt or experience failure? We want to make life easy for them. But, while they are young, let them flunk a few tests, or oversleep for school. These are minor things that they can self-correct. They can learn from their mistakes. If we’ve helped our kids every step of the way from kindergarten through their senior year in high school, and they’ve never experienced failure, they may feel overwhelmed when they get a lousy grade on a college paper or fail an exam. They also may feel they aren’t worthy and are incapable on their own without their helicopter parent at their side to save them.

It reminds me of a book I learned about at a writer’s conference more than a decade ago called “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones” by John C. Maxwell. It was recommended for writers to read this book because in this tough profession we face rejection after rejection and the key is to keep going and fail forward, rather than failing backward. I believe it’s an important read for parents, too, so that we allow our kids the growth experience that only failure provides.

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Before my kids experienced anxiety, stress or failure. Those were the days!

What other sad side-effects do you think helicopter parents may inflict upon their children–with the best intentions? Do you know any helicopter parents? What have you seen them do that you would never do yourself?

 

5 Things That Affect Academics

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My daughter swimming with club teammates during break at the home pool.

I received a letter from my daughter’s University — The Center for Student Wellness — with interesting information for parents of children of all ages.

They said in the letter that they’ve found on their campus five main issues that affect academics:

  1. Stress
  2. Anxiety
  3. Work
  4. Sleep
  5. Cold/flu/sore throat

imgresThe letter went on to explain that while sleep is fourth on the list, sleep affects everything else on the list. I’m not quite sure how they distinguish “stress” from “anxiety”  because they seem to go hand in hand. However, they state that lack of sleep can be mistaken for stress–which in turn can lead to anxiety. That can make your student more susceptible to getting sick–which also will affect academics. They suggest seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Then your child will be in a better mood. Plus, they will score higher on tests and keep a higher GPA!

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As the parent of swimmers, my kids were good sleepers. My daughter still swims and she has no problem falling asleep. Ever. 

My tip for getting enough sleep is simple: Swim! It even works for me. I feel so much better after a good night’s sleep and I’m likely to get more work done and have a positive attitude.

Here are the tips from the University of Utah on getting a good night’s sleep:

  1. Go to bed around the same time every night, and wake up around the same time each morning.
  2. Have a quiet, dark space to sleep in that is not too hot or cold.
  3. Be sure to remove distractions like televisions, iPods, computers, and tablets from bedrooms. Beds shouldn’t be used for activities like reading, watching movies, or listening to music.
  4. Begin powering down lights and electronics about an hour before bed.
  5. Avoid large meals, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol right before bed.
  6. Limit naps to 20-30 minutes a day.
  7. Engage in regular physical activity.

BINGO! There is it. Number seven. If you have a child in athletics — particularly swimming — your child will sleep. Maybe that’s why they say that swimmers have the highest GPAs of all sports? Even though they get up at the crack of dawn for practice–they’ve had a full night’s sleep.

My kids during break.

My kids during break.

 

How does sleep or lack of sleep affect your day?

5 Tips for Parents to Reign In Smartphone Use

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Life before smartphones.

With all the evidence that more and more kids are suffering from anxiety and depression and with suicide rates skyrocketing, there is research that says smartphones may be making these trends worse. In a Time article by Markam Heid, “We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones” he shares these horrifying figures:

“Between 2010 and 2016, the number of adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode leapt by 60%, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 2016 survey of 17,000 kids found that about 13% of them had a major depressive episode, compared to 8% of the kids surveyed in 2010. Suicide deaths among people age 10 to 19 have also risen sharply, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young women are suffering most; a CDC report released earlier this year showed suicide among teen girls has reached 40-year highs. All this followed a period during the late-1990s and early 2000s when rates of adolescent depression and suicide mostly held steady or declined.”

In another article, “Is Your Kid Hooked on Smartphones? 5 Tips for Parents” Heid gives some great advice for parents who are concerned with their kids’ smartphone use. Here’s the abbreviated version. You can read his article in its entirety here.

ONE
Keep devices out of kids’ bedrooms. There is already strong data linking bedroom screen time with a variety of risks—particularly sleep loss, says David Hill, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communication and Media.

TWO
Set up online firewalls and data cutoffs.
Most devices and Internet providers offer parenting tools that restrict access to illicit content and curb data use, and there are apps that do so as well.

THREE
Create a device contract. “This is something you create with your child that details rules around their device use,” says Yalda Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA and author of Media Moms and Digital Dads. These rules could include no smartphones at the dinner table, or no more than an hour of social media use after school.

FOUR
Model healthy device behaviors. Just as kids struggle to stay off their phones, so do parents. “We’re all, even adults, drawn to devices,” says UPenn’s Jensen. And if you’re a phone junkie yourself, you can’t expect your kids to be any different, she says.

FIVE
Consider old-school flip phones for your kids, or a smartphone without a data plan (and therefore no Internet access). This may seem like overkill for some parents—especially those of older teens. But unconnected phones still allow teens to call or text with parents and friends, says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen.

I think the best thing to do is put down firm guidelines and don’t give in. I was strict with my kids about when they got their first cell phones and I bought them at Target as pay-as you-go phones. It wasn’t until my son’s high school graduation that he got an iPhone. My daughter got one a little sooner because they were much more common, but not until age 16.

Today, I’m the one addicted to my phone. I’m always reading stories, looking at Twitter, checking out FB, etc. My daughter gets so mad at me when we’re together and asks me to put the phone down. “I”m here with you now!” she’ll remind me. I worry a lot about the kids who are in the iGen with peer pressure following them wherever they are. Getting the smartphones and computers out of their bedrooms at night is a smart idea. Making a weekend or week to unplug as a family is a plan, too. It’s such a different world, isn’t it, from when we grew up?

What rules do you have for your kid’s smartphone use?

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Me not on my iPhone–being in the moment with my daughter.

 

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate: sports stars share their stories

 

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Missy Franklin with the freshman Lady Utes at PAC 12s 2015.

In a sports conference for young women called LEAD Summit held in Austin, TX, Missy Franklin opened up about her struggles with mental illness. For those who don’t follow the Olympics, Missy is a five-time gold medalist and swimming superstar. At the summit, she was asked to talk about perseverance.

She said her favorite definition for perseverance was “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” In a “Gold Medal Minute” video produced by Mel Stewart, two-time gold medalist and founder of SwimSwam.com, he interviewed Missy. I urge you to take the time to listen to what Missy has to say and the journey she shares. As Stewart described it, “Missy went deep sharing some raw and personal history. Two months before the Olympic Trials last year, Missy was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, insomnia and an eating disorder when she was hitting a low while sports fans and the world were expecting her to rise up.”

Watch “MISSY FRANKLIN BATTLES BACK FROM DEPRESSION: GMM PRESENTED BY SWIMOUTLET.COM” here.

Missy explains how her definition of perseverance has changed from 2012, 2013, and 2014 when she said it was “shallow.” She thought perseverance was coming out at the other end successful and that at that time in her life “everything came with so much ease.”

She has some poignant words about success and what it means to her. “Your Definition of success is going to change and you need to let it,” Missy said. “That is the only definition that matters because you’re constantly going to have people in your life telling you what it means to be successful. And that is different for every single person. If you’re not striving for your own version of success, you’re never going to be happy or fulfilled.”

To find out more about LEAD Summit visit their website. “Founded in 2017 by 3-time Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce, the LEAD (Leadership, Empowerment, & Athletic Development) Sports Summit provides teenage female swimmers ages, 13-18, the opportunity to learn leadership and communication skills from an accomplished group of female Olympians and mentors over the course of a three-day summit.”

In an article from the Salt Lake Tribune called, “There’s always help’: Whittingham’s son praised for going public about his depression,” the head coach of the University of Utah football team Kyle Whittingham talks about how proud he is of his son, who plays football for the Utes. Here are a few excerpts.

“There were years of pain and anguish as he (Alex Whittingham) dealt with the effects of anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “Fighting through a storm cloud” is how he described it. And that cloud was on the 24-year-old’s mind this summer when he opened up an application on his iPhone and decided to open up to the world.Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 1.22.16 PM

“Kyle Whittingham’s son is many things. He is a goofball around his friends and teammates. He is a drummer in a rock band. He is a self-proclaimed Beatles trivia expert. But he is generally not a public person, so his decision to share his story took his father aback.

“ ‘That was a little out of character for him,’ Kyle Whittingham said. ‘He’s a fairly private person, and that did surprise me. It caught me a little bit off guard when he did that, but, like I said, he has very strong convictions, and obviously, that was something he felt like he needed to do.’

“The choice made the father proud.

“Kyle calls them ‘hard times’ for the Whittingham family. The moments when a parent is helpless and can’t provide the absolute most for his or her child are the ones that don’t ever disappear.

“ ‘As a parent, you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child,’ Whittingham said. ‘That old adage is very true. You go through it right there with him. You feel the pain. It’s hard, it’s frustrating.’ ”

In USA Today, an article called “When athletes share their battles with mental illness” written by Scott Gleeson and Erik Brady, they interview eight sports stars including Jerry West, Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt.

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Michael Phelps with local high school swimmers at a banquet where he was the keynote speaker.

 

“ROUGHLY ONE IN FIVE AMERICAN ADULTS SUFFER FROM MENTAL ILLNESSES. ATHLETES MIGHT BE MORE AT RISK. HERE, EIGHT OF THEM TELL THEIR AUTHENTIC STORIES.”

“Michael Phelps locked himself in his bedroom for four days three years ago. He’d been arrested a second time for DUI. He was despondent and adrift. He thought about suicide.

“I didn’t want to be alive,” he tells USA TODAY Sports. “I didn’t want to see anyone else. I didn’t want to see another day.”

“Family and friends — “a life-saving support group,” Phelps calls them — urged him to seek professional help. He got it. And now he wants others who are suffering from mental health issues to find the help they need.

“Some will scoff at this. Phelps is the golden boy of the Olympic Games. Fame and fortune are his. Really, what could be so bad in his life?

“That is never the right question. People from all walks of life suffer from a range of mental illnesses. Roughly 44 million Americans experienced some form of mental illness in 2015 (the most recent year for which numbers are available), according to estimates by the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s nearly one in five people aged 18 or over.”

After reading and listening to the stories of these athletes, I wondered if athletics is somehow connected to mental illness. According to the article in USA Today it is.

“Athletes may be at increased risk, according to research by Lynette Hughes and Gerard Leavey of the Northern Ireland Association of Mental Health, who found that factors such as injuries, competitive failure and overtraining can lead to psychological distress. An NCAA survey of athletes found over the course of a year that 30% reported feeling depressed while half said they experienced high levels of anxiety.

“Brent Walker, associate athletic director for championship performance at Columbia University, says he didn’t want to deal with the mental health side of performance when he began working in the field. Now, he says, “it is difficult to separate the mental health piece from the performance side of it.”

In my own family, we have struggled with mental illness, including my mother and several other family members. One of the concerns with mental illness is to alleviate stigma. People may not reach out for needed help because they’re afraid of what people will think of them. I am so moved by reading the stories of young and old athletes alike who are in the public eye and sharing their stories. They may not know it, but they are helping and touching someone. We need to understand that depression is not something that a person “can snap out of” and it’s not caused by being weak.

What are your thoughts of these athletes making their struggles with mental illness public?

 

 

 

 

How many parents know about “roasting” a cyberbullying trend?

 

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The pool is a good place to get away from cellphones.

 

My daughter told me they had a meeting at her college about their social media use. I’m thrilled to hear that they are on top of it and take it seriously. The students were told that someone is monitoring their social media accounts. The student-athletes were given specific examples of what had been seen and what the consequences were including loss of scholarships or being kicked off the team. Every day I hear about new problems with social media like depression and anxiety as a result of too much screen time–and today I heard about “roasting” a trend in cyberbullying.

On ABC’s Good Morning America, there was a feature called “What parents should know about roasting, a new cyberbullying trend”

Experts are warning parents to be aware of a recent rise in the social media trend of “roasting,” which many critics consider a harmful form of cyberbullying.

The trend involves people asking to be insulted by posting photos or videos of themselves on platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit, usually with the hashtag #roastme. Then friends or strangers online will take turns insulting the person who posted the original video or photo. Sometimes the insults are lighthearted or humorous, but the comments can also very quickly turn alarmingly mean.

ABC News’ T.J. Holmes sat down with middle school students — who asked not to be identified by their full names — to understand more about the online trend that has left some parents baffled.

“Adults don’t really say it … it’s like a kid thing,” one teenager told ABC News of “roasting.”

Another teen explained to Holmes that roasting is about a “50-50” split of good-natured fun and being mean to another person.

The middle schoolers told Holmes that while they do not participate in the trend themselves, they have seen it affect the lives of those around them, saying that some other children from their school were compared to animals online when they were roasted.

“Some people took it as a joke, and then others were actually crying about it,” one student told Holmes.

Cyberbullying is something parents of tweens and teens need to be aware of. On the ABC report, an expert said parents need to have their children’s passwords and see what is going on. We need to know if our kids are being bullied–and also if they are the bully. In another article, it says that half of teens and young adults between 12 and 20 years old have been bullied. That means one out of every two kids experiences bullying. We need to let them know that it’s not acceptable and this is a place where I believe a parent needs to get involved and interfere.

CYBERBULLYING HAPPENS MORE OFTEN ON INSTAGRAM, A NEW SURVEY SUGGESTS
By Hillary Grigonis — Updated July 22, 2017

A new study suggests that half of teens and young adults between ages 12 and 20 have been bullied and 17 percent experience bullying online. The cyberbullying statistics come from Ditch the Label, one of the largest anti-bullying organizations in the world, and a study of more than 10,000 youths in the U.K.

According to the survey, more youths experienced cyberbullying on Instagram than any other platform at 42 percent, with Facebook following close behind at 37 percent. Snapchat ranked third at 31 percent. While the survey participants use YouTube more than any other platform, the video-focused social media was only responsible for 10 percent of the reported cyber bullying.

Seventy-one percent of the survey participants said that social media platforms do not do enough to prevent cyberbullying.

The survey also considered the other side of the story, asking the same age group how often they were the bullies, instead of being on the receiving end. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said they were abusive online toward another user, compared to just 12 percent that admitted to bullying in general. Despite the prevalence of youth initiating the bullying, more than 60 percent disagreed with the idea that “saying something nasty” is less hurtful online than in person.

“Cyberbullying continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing young people online,” Ditch the Label CEO Liam Hackett wrote about the cyberbullying statistics. “This research uncovers the true extent and impact of online abuse, finding that the majority of young people have at some point done something that could be considered as abusive online behavior.”

Has your child been the victim of cyberbullying? How did you handle it?

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The Instant Gratification Generation and Helicopter Parents

Back when it was okay to helicopter.

Back when it was okay to helicopter.

The numbers don’t lie. ACT states that 50% of kids do not return to college for their second year, and then only 25% of those graduate in five years. US News and World Report, which ranks colleges annually, changed one of its measurements from a graduation rate of five years to six years! I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know the percentage of kids that get out in four!

Letting my kids play and be kids.

Letting my kids be kids.

I’ve given my two cents worth in Four Reasons Why Kids Fail Their Freshman Year. This time around, I asked Nicolle Walters, RN, PhD, Clinical Psychologist for her expertise. In addition to being a practicing therapist, she’s the mother of two kids in college about the same ages as mine.

Why do our kids have such a hard time once they’re away from us? They’ve worked so hard to fill their resumes with high grades, SAT scores, leadership, community service, sports, or music. Yet, these kids who look perfect on paper can’t handle the daily demands of life on their own. How much of the failure is our fault? 

According to Dr. Walters, our kids aren’t prepared for college. She said, “Part of the reason is our instant gratification society. They want everything right now—and get it with technology like streaming, etc. They don’t learn self discipline. They don’t have to wait for things, like we did.”

When parenting took all my time, but I was not interfering.

When parenting took all my time, but I was not interfering.

She said, “I know it sounds contrary or strange, but kids who come from dysfunctional families and had to take care of themselves are more equipped to deal with everyday problems, compared to kids who had parents who did everything for them.”

“Also, A lot of kids don’t learn how to work hard. If you’re smart, you don’t need to work hard in high school, and then aren’t prepared for college. Our kids need skills like planning ahead and self discipline.”

Here’s another thought she had, “College is totally different. Class time is switched and it’s the opposite of what they are used to. They are used to spending eight hours in class and studying a smaller amount of hours at night. In college it’s two or three hours a day of class, but they need to study for six to eight,” Dr. Walters said.

Today on TV, I heard a Stanford expert, Julie Lythcott-Haims, talk about her book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.” She says we are literally ruining a generation of kids. She said it’s not just at Stanford, but in colleges throughout the country. You can read more here.

This week on SwimSwam I list the things we do for our kids that we need to stop doing. Like today.

We are smothering our kids and crippling their self development. I know this because I’m guilty of a ton of it. I’m looking back at how concerned I was with performance, how busy my kids’ lives were, and because of those two factors I jumped in and did too much for them.

My kids being kids. They're okay despite my hovering.

The kids are okay despite my hovering.

Here’re are links to a couple other stories I’ve written about getting our kids ready and self-sufficient for college:

My Confessions as a Helicopter Mom 

10 Things Our Kids Need to Know Before College

If we as parents are over parenting like the experts claim, then what should we do to help our kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.