Soccer practice, ballet, football practice, 4-H, you name it; there is an activity (or five) for every kid. Even tender-aged infants and toddlers have a myriad of activities available to join – play dates, Gymboree, pre-K. You, the wonderful parent you are, enroll your child in every enrichment activity possible. You run yourself ragged, even if you have only one child. But are all these activities really enriching your family? Tom Hodgkinson, author of The Idle Parent says no.
“When I researched The Idle Parent, it was fairly obvious to me that [stress through overscheduling] was what was happening all over the world.” Hodgkinson stated.
Hodgkinson isn’t alone. Experts and parents seem to agree that unstructured play is needed to nurture creativity and imagination – that unstructured playtime is essential for developing a sense of self. Despite this fact, however, children all over the world are engaged in more activities than they can handle.
Free time for children is stripped away. After school and homework, time for the family is already strained and limited. Add in the extracurricular activities and it seems that no one, parent or child, has time to breathe, let alone have fun and enjoy being a family. What’s really interesting is that the less free time children have, the more stressed and anxious parents seem to become. Stressed parents make for a stressed family.
Hodgkinson suggests that, instead of carting children off to every event possible, parents should save their energy.
“All the activities cost money so you’re encouraged to fill up your time and pay for these activities and that contributes to the growth of the economy….it starts with the baby, when we’re encouraged to buy these hugely expensive strollers. From the moment it’s born, the baby is a commodity,” he added, blaming the problem on globalization. With all of the commercials geared towards children, Hodgkinson just might have hit the nail on the head.
Alex Brooks, editor of an Australian website, Kidspot ran the study and agrees with Hodgkinson.
“We all think we can be better parents by doing more…by enriching the child in some way – it might be a music or dance lesson or a sports activity, but it’s not necessarily to the benefit of the whole family. I think we often forget to think of the benefits of doing nothing for the kids.”
Think about when you were a child? What did you spend most of your time doing? For me, it was climbing trees, fishing, camping and playing outdoors. Do you feel any less enriched? I never did. I still don’t.
So what can a family do to reverse the effects of overscheduled lives? As long as you can let the ‘Mommy guilt’ roll off, it’s not too difficult.
“Limiting kids’ activities to one or two things a week is great….Kids eating together at the table is probably just as beneficial as going to a dance lesson. It’s just as important for their development,” Brooks stated.
Hodgkinson added that a lot of parent-scheduled activities tend to “backfire anyways,” stating, “I believe in some level of fate. You try to do all of these things but your children go their own way in the end…..My whole idea is to cut down your outgoings, be thrifty, so you don’t have to have a full-time job – and you can spend more time with your family,” said Hodgkinson.
But what about the children that want to stay indoors and watch television or play video games? How do you spend more time with them and get them going in active play? Hodgkinson had this to say: “It’s easy to just let the children watch television or play computer games and not have a big fight by turning it off, physically pushing them outside the front door while they’re screaming and whining – it’s difficult. But it has worked, and 20 minutes later, they’re all outside playing a fantastic game.”
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