The Downside of Concerted Cultivation

Every parent wants to foster their child’s talents and learning.  But are parents incorporating too many organized activities into their children’s lives? And how is that impacting the American family?

Sociologist Annette Lareau’s theory of concerted cultivation suggests that parents can provide financial and educational advantages to children which give them a social advantage in later life.  But Lareau also warns of potential negative impacts, when parents over schedule children.


How Over Scheduling Children Negatively Impacts Families

During her research, Lareau notes that there are possible downsides to how parents provide the social advantages associated with concerted cultivation, including:

Families Spend Less Quality Time Together.

Today’s middle-class families actually spend less time together as an entire group. Mom is driving to soccer, while dad is picking up from ballet. But the car riding to and fro, is not quality time together.  Often parents take two cars because of busy schedules, so there is less time for quality group family interactions.

More Negative Interactions Occur Between Family Members.

Lareau notes that fighting among siblings is more intense in the middle-class families than in the working-class and poor families.

Open expressions of anger are routine in some of the middle-class families. A girl may tell her mother, “I hate him!”, referring to her brother. The middle-class mother may calmly say, “I know.”  This hostility and parental acceptance wasn’t observed as frequently in poorer families, who often live together in much smaller living spaces, and therefore, Lareau postulates have more incentive to develop stronger, more positive family interactions.

Family Time is More Fragmented.

Middle class families used to have a center for their homes — gathering near the fireplace in the living room, eating around the children table together, and simply interacting together as a close-nit group.  Now this center is fragmented between carpool shuttles, Little League games, and after-school tutoring, whereas poorer families have maintained stronger social centers within their homes.

While there are certainly advantages to cultivating our children’s abilities, the reality is that children’s organized activities mean less quality time together.  No more dinner conversation, no reason for siblings to bond, and really, no incentive for family connectedness, if the focus is solely on the betterment of each individual family member.

Ideas for Promoting Positive Family Interactions

Of course, Soccer moms and over scheduling kids is perhaps here to stay. There are certainly positive benefits to providing children with opportunities for diverse activities.  So what is a family to do?

Here are some suggestions for promoting positive interactions between family members, while still juggling your over-scheduled kids schedules.

  • Encourage Sibling Support:  Rather than Sally always at ballet, while Tommy is always at baseball, make sure you prioritize opportunities to promote positive sibling support.  Tommy may need to skip a practice in order to attend Sally’s big performance, and vice versa, with a big family dinner afterwards to celebrate each other’s accomplishments!
  • Make Kindness a Priority:  If your child says, “I hate my sister”,  that is a learning opportunity.   Try, “I understand you are upset, but we do not speak unkindly in our family.  Let’s talk about ways we can solve the problem you are having with your sister.”  Yes, siblings will always fight, but good parenting promotes positive family bonds.
  • Make Car Time Quality: Rather than everyone zoning-out, promote family discussions when together in the car.  Sure, siblings will bicker on the drive, but this is a time to turn-off devices, and learn to engage positively as a family, even if it’s one on one time with you and your children.
  • Limit Activities:  At some point, over-scheduling kids only leads to negative gains.  If your family has no time together, is financially drained, and is always stressed out, then there’s a problem.

Use common sense to make your family time a priority, not simply focused on the well-being of the individual members, but collectively as a family team.  The positive support and social skills your children gain from strong family bonds are the foundation for their lifelong social-emotional health — which is often far more important than more soccer and ballet!!

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