Kids with too much time on their hands

USA Today ran a story today called “At some schools, budget cuts put the kibosh on sports.” In the South-Western City Schools district (around Columbus, Ohio), for instance, the school district canceled all after-school activities in order to cut $2.5 million in expenses. Net result? No sports, no marching band, etc. The lights go out soon after the school day is over.

Now, this seems fairly drastic, and I partially suspect that the school district chose to cut sports because they decided that parents and kids would be furious… and hence would push to pass a property tax increase that failed several times before. Cutting all activities is one way to save $2.5 million. Another is to get rid of 17 administrative positions, which could easily amount to $150,000 in payroll costs each by the time you figure in benefits. School district administration staffs are notoriously bloated.

But anyway, I bring this up because, in the past few years, it’s become trendy to claim that kids are too overscheduled. They’re doing too many sports and activities and need more time for unstructured play! We need to take back our time, and say no to all these sports and activities that are crowding out family life….

Except I highly doubt that’s what will be the result of the death of sports and other activities in the South-Western City Schools. Kids who are suddenly kicked out of their schools by 2:30PM every day will not rediscover the joys of playing kick-the-can around their streets. Instead, they will be home, by themselves, watching TV and eating junk food, or getting into worse trouble (it is an often repeated statistic that a high proportion of teen pregnancies are started between 3-6PM).

The truth is, kids, like adults, are happiest when they are busy and working on projects that matter. There is abundant evidence that children who participate in extra-curricular activities do better academically and on health outcomes than children who don’t. Even kids who do 20 hours of such activities a week don’t come out the worse for wear. Teens who spend 30 hours per week at school and about 5 hours on homework still have a lot of time to fill, even if they’re sleeping the 9-10 hours per night many children need. It’s too bad that some kids will no longer have the opportunity to fill their leisure time with productive activities because such opportunities have been deemed expendable.

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