Mata's study followed 1,354 children from birth through age 15, dividing them into groups based on how involved they were outside of school and home. The 43 children in the highest activity level averaged 129 minutes per week of structured activities at kindergarten, which increased to 254 minutes weekly by fifth grade.
Highly involved children were more likely to be girls from more affluent families, Mata said, and their mothers had attained higher education levels. This group had higher grades and lower levels of delinquency, among other behavioral and academic measurements, compared to less-involved children, she said.
"We're looking at it in a much more positive way," Mata said. "These highly involved kids are highly adaptive and high-functioning."
Linda Balog, former executive director of the Child and Adolescent Stress Management Institute at State University of New York at Brockport, said parents should ask their children how they feel about their extracurricular pursuits and whether they feel overwhelmed and stressed.
"We see some kids forced into organized sports at early ages and then get so burned out that they opt not to play in high school," said Balog, an associate professor of health sciences who's teaching a course on child and adolescent stress.
"Sometimes parents live through their children -- a sort of surrogate self," she added. "I think we have to err on the side of backing off a bit . . . as opposed to everything being organized and structured."
Experts note that research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The Nemours Foundation talks about childhood stress.
SOURCES: Andrea Mata, doctoral student, K
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