Is your childcare time spent as a chauffeur?

Extracurriculars are really important for kids. You’ve heard it before. Research has consistently found that participation in sports and other activities has a positive effect on kids. In fact, extracurriculars seem to have a more consistent positive impact than homework does! There’s one potential effect of extracurriculars that parents seem to be increasingly aware of: they might improve a student’s chances of being accepted into college. In a competitive post-secondary environment, anything that improves one’s application could mean the difference between admission to one’s chosen program and having to attend a second-choice school.

Economists at University of California San Diego have found that mothers in particular are spending more time driving their teenagers to activities in the hopes of improving their resumes. Since the mid-90s, college-educated mothers have increased the time spent on childcare from 13 to 22 hours per week; most of the difference came from parents who were “chauffeuring” their school-aged children from one event to another.

After reviewing data gathered from 1965 to 2007, the researchers found that the increase in childcare time coincided with increased competition in college admissions. Although the number of college-eligible students has increased dramatically since the 1960s, the number of spaces in post-secondary programs has not kept up. The researchers concluded that highly educated parents were coming to the realization that good grades might not be enough for their children to be competitive, so they began enrolling them in activities to pad their applications; they coined the term “the Rug Rat Race” to describe the trend. In Canada, where there is less competition among university and college applicants, childcare time has remained more stable over the past 20 years.

At face value, it would seem that having parents spend more time with their kids is a positive thing. However, mothers in the study rated childcare as less enjoyable than cooking and housework, possibly because so much of their time was spent driving rather than in more interactive pursuits. It’s not hard to see how this time can get out of hand - when my 8 year-old son tried out for competitive soccer, we were told to expect 2 two-hour practices per week in addition to a weekly game and weekend travel for tournaments. That’s ONE activity for a child in Grade 3!

It’s unfortunate that time that could be spent improving the parent-child relationship is instead spent chauffeuring. Perhaps looking for shared activities would provide more enjoyment for the mothers along with benefits for the parent-child relationship. And as always, balance is the key. Overscheduling your child might have a negative impact on grades, which could interfere with college applications! Balancing the workload might also help. Dads reported spending more time on childcare also, but continued to devote less time than moms did.

You can find the UC San Diego News story here.

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