Reading Melbourne Herald Sun Columnist Wendy Tuohy’s recent article (3rd February 2013) about the burgeoning after school industry for children, reminded me how modern kids are busy kids.
Tuohy in her column declared war on the pervasive, expensive guilt engendering after school activity industry.
She has a point. I’ve written about this subject on a number of occasions. A great discussion has ensued on my Facebook page with many people feeling strongly on the issue also.
Regardless of age, kids’ days are filled with activities. And that generally keeps parents busy, making sure kids' lives are busy.
Under fives do a range of adult-initiated learning activities designed to give them the best start to their learning lives.
As they get older their lives become more organised. The proliferation of organised sport, performance-based and educational type activities available in the burgeoning ‘child development and education’ industry ensures that kids are heavily scheduled.
It’s not uncommon for kids to have four and five extra-curricular activities a week. Many modern kids don’t have a chance to get bored. They are always on the go.
It’s not just kids whose lives are busy. Parents are now feeling strain driving kids from one activity to another. While this involvement is to be applauded, it can leave you very little time for yourself. The idea of having a few spare hours to read a book or laze on the couch is foreign to many parents. They are vague memories of a different life stage when life revolved around them, their partner and friends.
A massive industry has now developed in Australia around the general child development area, and it’s getting bigger all the time. In many ways it's turning parents into taxi-drivers, and stopping us from……well, parenting.
Two years ago, the former NSW Community Services Minister Pru Goward took the unusual step of releasing a fact sheet on family fatigue, with information on how to recognise if a child is doing too much. Goward stated that many parents under-estimated the value of children having a simple childhood and under-estimated the value of ‘just dagging around’.
The rise in childhood anxiety as reported by educators and health professionals is an indicator that the push for early success may well come at a cost to children's mental health and well-being.
Seek a balance
Most of the evidence suggests that parents should take a balanced approach to child-rearing and make sure that kids have sufficient time to just be kids. Not everything in their lives needs to be tied to learning or needs to have a purpose. One or two organised activities a day maybe okay, but any more, and you may find you are creating a ‘stimulus junkie’. It's easy to forget that unstructured play has huge value in terms of stress relief, learning and stimulating kids' imaginations. Kids don't always have to be engaged in productive activities to learn.
And kids need at least one day free from after school activities during the week.
When busy children want to add an organised or adult-lead activity to an already bulging schedule then suggest that they delete an activity from their schedule, which is a great life skill to develop.
Kids of all ages tell us they want more down-time at home to do as they want. This free time gives kids a chance to form relationships with siblings and parents as well as provide chances for kids to initiate their own play and retreat to their very fertile imaginations.
Build regular down-time into family life.
Avoid being a family that’s always on the go. Make sure you have some down-time so family members can relax and have the chance to connect. And don’t be afraid that you kids may become bored. Boredom gives kids opportunities to keep themselves occupied. This may mean that you may need to say no to children’s afterschool activities once or twice a week.
It's easy to forget that unstructured play has huge value in terms of stress relief, learning and stimulating kids' imaginations. Kids don't always have to be engaged in productive activities to learn.
There’s no doubt that we raise kids in an incredibly competitive environment but that doesn’t mean we need to over-schedule kids’ lives to maximise their chances of success. Parents naturally want to bring out the best in their children. That is the nature of parenting. We just need to be sure, that in the meantime, kids don’t miss out on some of the joy, freedom and fun that come from a less-structured environment.
And we don’t miss out on some of the joy and meaning we get from being parents!
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