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Ask Dr. Meg: “I feel pressure to sign my child up for sports”

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg,

I feel pressure to sign my kids up for sports, but I’m not sure how I feel about their involvement with extra curricular activities at this point. What should I do?

Thank you for your help,

José

Dear José,

Welcome to the 21st century, where life for kids is all about sports, sports, and more sports. Doesn’t it make you feel kind of crazy?

Many of my patients talk about the fact that they want to help their teens not cave to pressure. You know why? Because many parents feel more peer pressure than kids do.

When it comes to youth sports, many parents feel more peer pressure than their kids do.

We feel the need to parent our children the way our friends parent their children. If our friends have their kids in two or three sports per semester, we feel like a bad parent if our child is only in one. But signing your kids up for sports simply because the other parents are is a terrible reason to do it.

The reality is, parents all have different motives for how they raise their kids when it comes to youth sports, and I see many parents often overemphasize and push their kids into sports in an unwitting effort to live vicariously through their children. If you’re not careful, you’ll run yourself ragged playing the comparison game with another parent who is trying to recapture their own glory days or chase their own Championship wishes and Super Bowl dreams through their kids.

Mom and dad, you have the right, and the obligation to put your kids in the number of sports that is right for them and your family. Youth sports can absolutely be great but they are even greater when prioritized wisely for your family.

Another reason I think parents sign their kids up for sports is that they want their child to be the next Olympic swimmer, gymnast, ice skating champion—what have you. Yes, there are a lot of great lessons about life, teamwork, and character to be learned in youth sports, but I’ve been a pediatrician for over 30 years and I can tell you that 99% of kids who are sports crazy in school never even end up playing sports in college. Chances are, you are not ruining your child’s future by not signing him up for t-ball at age three.

Now let me throw this question back at you. What do you want your kids to do? How many sports do you want them to be involved in?

Signing your kids up for sports simply because the other parents are is a terrible reason to do it.

Not sure? Here is how you can make the decision. Figure out what you want for your family first. How much time do you want your family to spend together? I think every family needs to eat four meals together each week. Non-negotiable. Studies show the more times you have dinner with your kids the healthier they become.

So prioritize around that—family time. Work sports around the family schedule, and not the other way around. Once you’ve set how much time you want your family to spend together each week and you see that it leaves room for sports, go ahead and sign up your child for one. If he really wants to do two sports and he has time for it without cutting into family time, go for it.

Don’t look at sports as the key to your child’s future and potential. Spending time with you is actually what will develop his character most and ensure he has a successful future. So, look at sports as playtime, something your child can enjoy. And remember, family time always comes first.

Sincerely,

Dr. Meg

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