Kids: Are they overscheduled?
According to a recent University of Michigan study, kids spend 50 percent less time outside than they did just 20 years ago.
With summer over, our “backpack-laden kids” have returned to school and resumed their “overorganized, cell-phone-computer-TV-and-video-game-saturated lives,” said Stuart Brown in The New York Times. What a pity. While summer no longer offers “complete release” from the childhood grind, it provides some “goof-off time” outdoors for kids shouldering today’s crushing school-year schedules. Kids spend 50 percent less time outside than they did just 20 years ago, according to a recent University of Michigan study. The consequences are “tragic statistics for obesity, 4.5 million children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and an increase in childhood depression and classroom behavioral problems.” The disappearance of playtime is nothing short of “a tragic loss” for American childhood.
For a bleak vision of childhood, said Laura Vanderkam in The Wall Street Journal, don’t look at the kids happily racing from soccer practice to piano lessons to computer class. Instead, look at the roughly 40 percent of children who “aren’t involved in any activities.” Do you know how they spend their sacred free time? Not with the “high-quality unstructured play that pundits praise.” More likely they’re home alone eating junk food and indulging in the sedentary pleasures of TV, videogames, texting, or Facebook. Only 6 percent of kids spend more than 20 hours per week on extracurricular activities, and studies show that these kids are just fine. The “scolds mourning the loss of play and leisure time” would be better off peeling kids away from their TVs and organizing events to keep children “happy and busy.”
Television and junk food aren’t the only things keeping kids indoors, said Krista Jahnke in the Chicago Tribune. There is also fear. Headlines about abductions and missing children discourage parents from “letting kids roam free.” That’s why it’s hard to find a middle ground between “overprotective” and “just plain nuts,” said Sarah Clark in the St. George, Utah, Spectrum. For a little perspective, consider the case of Laura Dekker, the 13-year-old Dutch girl who is determined to sail around the world by herself. Dutch authorities are assessing her fitness for a solo voyage, which could easily take two years and would certainly risk her life. (Talk about unstructured.) By contrast, the issue in our home is whether my 12-year-old can take his sisters to the movies “sans parents.” Compared with “two years and a number of oceans,” 90 minutes in the local movie theater seems pretty tame. Even so, he’d better take a cell phone.