The thinking behind this column by Rosa Brooks is not exactly news: children today are overscheduled and overly controlled, which is leading to an epidemic of childhood obesity and turning kids to violent, thrill-seeking video games, etc., etc. Put another way, according to the column's subhead: "Overbearing parents have taken the fun out of childhood and turned it into a grind."
Have they? Really?
Perhaps it's because our experience is mostly with the baby-to-preschool crowd, but we don't have a lot of first-hand exposure to the crimes of which Brooks is accusing parents. The greatest crime? Not allowing children ample unstructured time in which to just go outside and play:
Remember how there used to be this thing called "going out to play"? For younger readers, I'll explain this archaic concept. It worked like this: The child or children in the house -- as long as they were over age 4 or so -- went to the door, opened it, and ... went outside. They braved the neighborhood pedophile just waiting to pounce, the rusty nails just waiting to be stepped on, the trees just waiting to be fallen out of, and they "played."
"Play," incidentally, is a mysterious activity children engage in when not compelled to spend every hour under adult supervision, taking soccer or piano lessons or practicing vocabulary words with computerized flashcards.
All in all, "going out to play" worked out well for kids. As the American Academy of Pediatrics' Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg testified to Congress in 2006, "Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles. ... Play helps children develop new competencies ... and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges." But here's the catch: Those benefits aren't realized when some helpful adult is hovering over kids the whole time.
While we agree with much of the substance of Brooks's column (who's going to argue that free time to play and explore is a bad thing), we still find ourselves sympathizing with well-meaning parents (as opposed to the "overbearing" parents she mentions, whom we suspect may largely be constructed of straw) who want to expose their children to a variety of interesting activities. (As with everything else in life and parenting, moderation is key, and every parent of our acquaintance seems to agree with this idea.)
We're especially sympathetic to our fellow parents who live in major urban centers -- not to mention certain inner city areas -- and who may not feel inclined to send their six-year-old by him- or herself down eleven storeys for unstructured play time on city streets. And then there's the issue of families in which both parents work outside the house and, between dinner, homework, chores, and hopefully some family time, too, may have a hard time giving their kids a couple of hours of time outdoors every single day.
But we could nitpick these points all day long, and to be honest, we're more interested in solutions than nitpicking. For those of you who agree that free play time is invaluable, how do you work around the challenges to make sure your kids get it?
Read the full column here: Remember 'Go Outside and Play'?