See How They Run

See How They Run

When Did Childhood Turn Into a Rat Race?

September/October 2002

Once every decade or so, we therapists awaken from our cultural slumber to see a problem that previously had no name in our clinical lexicon. In previous decades, we came to see sexism and racism as problems deeply rooted in the larger culture and spreading tentacles into family and personal life in ways we could no longer ignore in our work. I have a nomination for the problem of this decade: for many kids, childhood is becoming a rat race of hyperscheduling, overbusyness, and loss of family time. The problem is all around us, but we haven't noticed how many of our children, especially middle-class kids, need daily planners to manage their schedules of soccer, hockey, piano, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, baseball, football, karate, gymnastics, dance, violin, band, craft clubs, foreign-language classes, academic-enrichment courses, and religious activities. Parents have become recreation directors on the family cruise ship.

Stephanie, age 16, was living in the belly of this beast. The presenting problems in therapy were marital conflict and family tensions related to starting a new stepfamily. Stephanie was having trouble tolerating the supervision of her new stepmother, and was becoming alternately withdrawn and angry. I asked her about something I'd never have inquired about in the past: her schedule. When she recounted her typical day, the hair on my neck stood up. Out of bed at 5 a.m. to get across town to high school, home at 3:30, off to swimming practice from 4…

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