Time Use (Trend Analysis)
 
Estimated Number of Printed Pages: 2
 
TOPICS COVERED: The media loves writing about a "time bind" – the idea that everyone is overscheduled, and that kids, in particular, are paying a heavy emotional price for it. From our research, we learned that, yes, families are spending a lot more hours at work – because more families have both Mom and Dad working. But that doesn't necessarily lead to the conclusion we're all overscheduled, or that kids are suffering because of it.
 
MEMOS ON RELATED INFORMATION: How People Spend Their Time, Housework, Modern Child Development (for children's time use information)
 
Links to Sources for this material are available below. Please also see The Factbook Sources page for further information regarding Factbook sources and their availability.
 
 

PAGE INDEX:

 
 

THE MEDIA REPORTED "TREND":
PARENTS AND CHILDREN ARE OVERSCHEDULED AND PAYING A HEAVY EMOTIONAL PRICE

A SYLLOGISM ABOUT WORK

PARENTS SPEND MORE TIME WITH THEIR KIDS

ALL KIDS AREN'T OVERSCHEDULED

PEOPLE DON'T KNOW HOW THEY SPEND THEIR TIME

 
 
THE TREND AS IDENTIFIED IN MASS MEDIA:
 
Time-starved, frantic, exhausted parents spend more time at work, and less time with their over-scheduled children, who are paying a heavy emotional price.
 
HOW THEY GET IT WRONG:
 
 
Point 1: There's a syllogism in the idea that, since parents spend more time at work, that is time spent away from children.
 
Yes, there's an increase in time spent at work. But it isn't taken away from the kids. It's taken away from sleep, personal care, housework. They are right about the parents being exhausted part, though.
 
 
Point 2: Parents spend more time with their children than they did before.
 
 
Parents are actually spending more time with their kids, now. And smaller families means actually more time per child.
 
 
Point 3: The phenomenon of the over-scheduled child / family is debatable.
 
First, the fact children have organized activities does not necessarily mean that the child is ridiculously over-scheduled. We just can't buy into the premise of an overscheduled child that if that same child can watch television for 12-15 hours a week, plus play on the computer, and socialize. And again and again, these articles don't address t.v. viewing, computer-time. For some inexplicable reason, they don't consider being a couch potato as unscheduled time.
 
Another huge problem with most of these articles: they are usually focusing on affluent, to very well-to-do families – the ones who have the ability to pay for a two-year-olds violin lessons. Most of us don't have that luxury. And for those really struggling to make ends meet, a lot of those children are just at home, waiting for something to do. Look at our time use information for children: it's amazing how differently the children of means spend their time as supposed to those children with less resources.
 
In most of the articles we looked at, we really felt that the real problem wasn't the kids' schedules. It was that the parents had been overzealous in forcing them into activities. If the kids really didn't like the activities, they could drop out. If not, then it seems to us that there are other psychological factors within the family or child that may be the real issue. But the articles stop with "the kid's exhausted and stressed."
 
Moreover, in a number of these profiles, what the parents were really objecting to wasn't the kids' activities. Instead, what they really were complaining about was the impact of the activities on their own schedules – that they were shuttling between too many kid events – Joey's baseball or Margie's soccer practice.
 
And you have to notice that these articles never find the kids who just sat around playing Xbox all summer (if they're lucky), the kids who are bored out of their minds, desperate for something to do, for comparison. Or the alternatives – that unsupervised child activity leads to delinquency, pregnancy, etc.
 
 
Point 4: People really don't know what they are doing with their time.
 
We all ask "Where does all the time go?" and we need to reflect on that before we complain that we're out of time. Rather than work out a family schedule in a state of panic, perhaps more of us should start with time diaries. I think we'd find that we spend ridiculous amounts of time in front of the television. Watching the news or a football game may seem worthwhile – but it still counts for your couch potato status just as much as a rerun of a 1970s sitcom. We lose time driving, looking for a parking space, surfing the net, instant-messaging someone just because they're online when you are, not because you have anything to say. If we look at that lost time, we might not feel so free to say we're overscheduled.
 
 
On the other hand, I don't think people appreciate how much they are really doing for their kids. If people feel they exhausted and like can't do it all, it may be because they are literally going beyond what their bodies can take. And perhaps the answer is in a scaling down of expectations. Or at least, crediting yourself for how much – not how little – you did during the day.