Are we, as a nation, making childhood too stressful for millions of kids?
Are we cramming them into too many after-school activities without an eye toward what lessons they'll learn about themselves?
Have we forgotten what childhood can and should be like?
These are just a few of the big existential worries that spiral out of a simple-sounding question millions of parents ask ourselves: What activities should my children be involved in?
As a dad to two young boys, I'm quickly learning what so many parents already know: It's stressful territory that involves a tough balancing act.
But recently, standing before a large crowd, I had a realization that now serves as my guidepost, and that I hope will help others.
What if your kid's a budding prodigy?
Good parents want to help our kids learn skills, gain confidence, find interests and try new things. When they're young, it's easy to want to give them every opportunity.
But that's impossible, not to mention expensive.
One of my boys has drummed to the beat since he was a baby, so I'm looking into drum lessons. The other can't stop dancing, so maybe he'll take dance lessons. Both love playing catch with me. Tee ball time?
The oldest, in kindergarten, chose tennis lessons. And they both love their swim lessons.
The possibilities are endless.
What if one is meant to be a pole vaulting chess prodigy, and the other's an Olympic gymnast who paints masterpieces? How will they know if we don't introduce them to all these things?
And so the spiraling begins, which helps lead some parents to sign our kids up for too many activities.
There are studies saying the "overscheduled child" is a "myth," but those are about generation-wide statistics. The fact remains that some kids are kept far too busy.
"Parents need to teach their kids to balance human doing with human being," said clinical psychologist Paula Bloom.
Kids need to know they're not defined by what they do, she said. They need time to play, experiment, rest and figure out who they are.
"As parents, we've got to get over our anxiety that we're not doing enough. Creating a sense of safety, helping kids have confidence to try certain things, those are the things that matter."
As kids get older, they'll show you more and more what they're interested in, Bloom notes.
And, yes, we all make mistakes.
"As adults, your kids are going to tell their therapists, 'Oh my parents never let me play piano,' or some other activity. It's going to happen. Being able to tolerate that is really important."
League sports for little kids?
Many of my kids' friends started soccer leagues at age 3. My wife and I asked ourselves: Do we want our boys to be the only ones without soccer skills? We want them to know they can do anything and to join the camaraderie.
But on top of their other activities, our kids have religious education one weekend morning. Soccer would mean not a single morning all week to relax at home, unstructured.
A great dad I know, a personal trainer (full disclosure: mine) who works regularly with teen athletes, is vehemently against kids entering sports leagues before they're about age 11 or 12.