Can a wealth of extra-curricular activities be putting too much strain on children and family life? A study led by an Edge Hill University academic has the answer.

Dr Sharon Wheeler, Lecturer in Sport, Physical Activity and Health, has found that the growing demand for children to get involved in organised activities outside of the school day is placing exceptional strain upon families.

After conducting some sports-based research for her PhD, Sharon was intrigued by the parental involvement and the amount of activities the children were actually participating in. This led to her changing the focus of her PhD, instead exploring the types and the frequency of activities children are involved with outside of school.

Sharon’s study, which is co-authored by Ken Green from the University of Chester, has been published in the journal Sport, Education and Society, and reveals just how significant a role extracurricular activities, such as music lessons and sports clubs, play in family life.

After interviewing almost 50 families from 12 primary schools across the North West, Sharon discovered that almost 90 per cent of children took part in organised activities on four to five days a week, with almost 60 per cent doing more than one in an evening.

It became apparent that extra-curricular activities were dominating family life, causing families to spend less time together. Many parents admitted that the activities sometimes left their children exhausted, and that the time and expense involved could often lead to family tension.

“We know that parents are particularly keen to ensure their children get on in life,” said Sharon. “Parents initiate and facilitate their children’s participation in organised activities as it shows that they are ‘good’ parents. They hope that such activities will benefit their children in both the short-term – by keeping them fit and healthy, and helping them to develop friendship groups – and in the longer-term by improving their job prospects.

“However, our research highlights that the reality can be somewhat different. While children might experience some of these benefits, a busy organised activity schedule can put considerable strain on parents’ resources and families’ relationships, as well as potentially harm children’s development and wellbeing.”

The rise of after-school clubs is put down to more families having more than one car, women working more than in the past and parents wanting to make their children more employable in the future.

“Raising awareness of this issue can help those parents who feel under pressure to invest in their children’s organised activities, and are concerned with the impact of such activities on their family, to have the confidence to plan a less hectic schedule for their children,” added Sharon.

“Until a healthy balance is struck, extracurricular activities will continue to take precedence over family time, potentially doing more harm than good.”

Sharon’s future research will explore what the physical, mental and social health outcomes associated with children’s participation in organised activities are, as well as what a less scheduled and ‘freer’ childhood might look like.

Click here to read the full paper.