Self-Reliance, Self-Esteem At Risk When Child's Day Over-Programmed By Parents

Filling a child's day with activity can be too much of a good thing. With the best intentions, parents may be depriving their child of the tools needed to develop self-reliance and self-esteem, according to a psychiatrist at New York University Medical Center.

"A child whose every waking moment is planned does not learn to amuse himself or herself, something that fosters healthy feeling of self- reliance," said Dr. Richard A. Oberfield, Clinical associate professor of psychiatry. "Children who live under a constant barrage of entertainments may become bored or panicky when the merry-go-round of activity is not spinning at top speed.

An article in an issue of the Center's Health Letter explains that over-programming is a relative concept that depends on the individual child and situation. In general, over-programming refers to a daily structure that permits a child very little time to decide independently what to do.

"This is a common problem for school-age children, and it is beginning to be seen in those as young as 2 or 3," Oberfield said. "The phenomenon usually fades by early adolescence, because 11 or 12 year olds tend to assert themselves. The over programmed child may be the first to want to break out, to be free to do nothing, to hang out with friends, or just be alone."

One of the dangers Oberfield observed in the excessive offering of gymnastics and music lessons, painting and dance classes, reading and other tutorials, and closely supervised parent-initiated play dates is the introduction of a competitive element that can be stressful to children. "Parents may be indicating that their children's worth depends on activities or accomplishments and that they are not loved for themselves," he asserted.

Long-term consequences for personality development may occur," he maintained. In the short term, these children display such signs of stress as lack of energy, irritability and an inability to engage in age-appropriate activities, such as informal play. "We are seeing a lot of jaded children, who feel they must have something new to excite them," Oberfield said.

From USS Volunteer