Ask any Gen-Xer what summertime was like for them as a child, and you’ll hear things like, “Playing outside until the street lamps came on.” And, “Hopping on my bike and riding to the other side of the neighborhood.” Or even, “Hanging out at the community pool while my parents worked.” Compare those answers to the kind that you’d get from kids today, “I’m going to a 3-week overnight camp.” Or, “My parents are scheduling different play dates for me.”
As parents, we know that our summers looked different from those of our children. Growing up, we simply weren’t as scheduled and structured. Our parents didn’t pre-arrange a window of time for our friends to come over. That’s why, “Can So-And-So come out and play?” was such a common refrain of our youth. It’s clear that our kids’ freedom to explore and play without adult planning or supervision has declined in recent decades.
But what, if any, effect does that have on our kids?
Hustling our children to different activities and camps isn’t allowing them to blossom in the ways we might hope. Aha!Parenting.com points out that enrichment and growth come when our kids aren’t scheduled. “Unstructured time gives children the opportunity to explore their inner and outer worlds, which is the beginning of creativity. This is how they learn to engage with themselves and the world, to imagine and invent and create.”
We asked a San Antonio mom what kind of activities she had her children in and why: “Well, my 12-and 10-year-old children have already attended tennis camp, orchestra camp, Boy Scout Camp and church camp. Oh, and did I mention ukulele lessons? I made all of these plans because I wanted my children exposed to a variety of activities so they can discover their passion and grow up to be well-rounded individuals.”
The author of Free to Learn, Peter Gray, Ph.D., says that while well intentioned, this kind of scheduling is not doing children any favors. “We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders.”
We know that when parents are putting children into activities, the furthest thing from their minds is somehow increasing chances for mental health issues.
So what can parents do to prevent overscheduling?
Allowing children to be bored is a good place to start. Give them the opportunity to get quiet, look within and discover their passion, whether that is building with their hands in the backyard, writing their own play, digging through the art drawer, or exploring new recipes in the kitchen. According to Parent Educator and Author Nancy Blakely, this is the best path. “Preempt the time spent on television and organized activities, and have them spend it instead on claiming their imaginations… I cannot plant imagination into my children. I can, however, provide an environment in which their creativity is not just another mess to clean up but welcome evidence of grappling successfully with boredom.”
Don’t let the words, “I’m bored,” from your children put you into a scheduling panic. Instead, allow them the space to come up with their own entertainment and ideas - even if it’s just for one day. We think you will be pleased with the results, and we would love to hear about it. Please share in the comments section how your children are conquering boredom.