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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
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    1,508

    Structure vs. free-time

    Today I got to thinking about a phenomenon that may be the cause of some of the problems that American children are experiencing - how many of them are being pressured strongly (sometimes from an early age) to be engaged in as many activities as possible, excel in school and the other activities, etc. Much of this got started with parents trying to get their children the best start in getting into the best college, etc.; however there are signs that it may not be the best way (such as a rise in obesity and various attention disorders due to the lack of physical activity, more kids feeling tired and burned out, and lack of creativity in the new generation due to not having time to independently thinl). There is a rising movement proclaiming that the "traditional" childhood with plenty of unstructured free time is best, considering that the rat race the generation coming of age has experienced led to lots of college graduates with massive student loan debt and unable to get a job (meaning that all those activities, honors, etc. haven't really paid off).

    What do you think? For those of you with older children, what way do they lean (or do you think they have a good balance between the two)? What are the general trends in your area (particularly for those of you outside the U.S., to see if where you are is experiencing the same thing)?

  2. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
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    290

    Re: Structure vs. free-time

    I haven't got children, but I am a psych major, so naturally I feel obligated to stick my nose in. :P Free time is definitely important to psychological development. Not only does it allow kids to relax -- important in a time when children are being diagnosed as overstressed on a regular basis -- but it actually allows them to build a lot of very important skills. Almost all mammals play, and there is a very good reason for that -- play is how we learn how to navigate the world, how we begin to understand physics, how we find out about risk (usually of injury) and reward. You emphatically do not get this from adult-run activities, mostly because adults think that the most important things are "cramming your head full of facts you can't possibly understand yet" and "passing the SATS you won't write for 13 more years".

    If you think about it, all you can learn from scheduled activities is how to do one thing, possibly quite well, according to the rules. Adults manage all of the conflict and compromise. don't at all object to a few lessons if the child is interested, but think of what you can learn from a pick-up game of baseball with the neighbourhood kids, as opposed to a uniformed and adult-managed team. Organization (of the game), sharing (of your things), compromise (between arguing kids), responsibility (to be back home in time, to look after younger kids), the ability to make fair decisions not according to the rules (letting the worst player have an extra go because otherwise you'll be a player -- and friend -- short), the ability to MAKE rule (how long you'll play, when you'll switch sides, how to keep score), and so on, and so on.

  3. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Posts
    4

    Re: Structure vs. free-time

    I think it depends on what you're forcing them to do. My children will have piano lessons from a young age. They will also have horseback riding lessons (we live across the road from a dressage barn, so it's more convenient than dance) and they'll be raised bilingual (French and English). In between their weekly riding and piano lessons and frequent French speaking, they can do as they darn well please. The attitude of the parents regarding their childrens activities also plays a big part, I believe. I want my kids to play piano and ride horses, so they can learn to have their own hobbies and activities, leading to fulling lives outside of video games and the internet.

    I think that structure vs. free time also has a lot to do with general ethics and beliefs a child is raised with. I had a lot of unstructured free time and as a result I failed out of 3 different colleges (3 different majors) started and dropped out of an additional 2 majors at community college, jumped from job to job, and I'm a procrastinator. My dad never really parented me, and my mother just let me go out and play on my own instead of her ever doing anything with me. Whereas my husband who had a pretty structured childhood, albeit with some free time, is a very responsible adult as a result of being parented by a single mother who worked full time and went to school full time but still made time for him.

    lots of college graduates with massive student loan debt and unable to get a job (meaning that all those activities, honors, etc. haven't really paid off).
    Your argument here negates itself because all those extra curriculars did pay off, they got into college, which is what parents were aiming for, to get their kid into college. Unfortunately, parents need to aim to raise their kids to be functioning adults, which college has nothing to do with. I'd rather see my son grow up to become a plumber, or a heating and A/C technician than someone who graduated with honors with a degree in Communications, unable to find a job.
    Hermione Faith, Arabella Ortensia, Isolde Matilda, Penelope Severine
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  4. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Posts
    290

    Re: Structure vs. free-time

    @justmead; I think we'er basically on the same side with just some minor differences or required clarifications.

    I'd forgotten about this, but interestingly I think it is NASA that now asks how you spent your childhood, looking specifically *for* lots of free play, because they found it was a trait shared by their best employees and not by their worst (if not NASA than some other big brainy employer; I read the article detailing this quite a while ago). Previously they were hiring based on extra-curricular activities but found that a lot of their employees lacked an ability for creative thought.

    Of course, you are quite right in saying it depends how you structure their time. How you were raised sounds...perhaps not neglectful, but not terribly involved, which is a separate issue. I was given lots of free play as a child and only one "class" type activity a week (mostly musical) -- but I was also expected to do all of my homework, demonstrate that I was learning, engage with my parents, etc (and I got into good universities -- twice, for different degrees -- without so much as mentioning extra-curriculars, and without being the top student in the class, so I'm dubious of the importance of such things when it comes to getting into uni - backed up by some stats from my uni's admin). I was also big on hobbies that were sort of intellectually stimulating already (read a few books a week, taught self piano, etc) which helps. Meanwhile I know and know of a lot of people whose entire childhood was structured and who were not allowed much free time at all, and these people deal with real life situations very badly (university admin call them "teacups" because they break down so easily). Psychologically it is very important to have time completely on your own as a child -- this is becoming more and more evident every day. Of course, the right balance differs from child to child -- your children's schedule would've driven me crazy but I think most people would be happy with it. It's when there is no balance that I get defensive and go all developmental-psychologist.

    I do agree that a lot of parents focus needlessly on getting children into college. They definitely should focus on raising functioning adults, but part of being a functioning adult is being able to solve problems without help from parents or coaches or whatever, and that isn't a skill learned through adult-led activities. However, as your activities suggest, you can't learn French without any guidance, or horse riding.

    I do get a little prickly about this, though, because I'm seeing a lot of parents (certainly not you) being seriously, ludicrously overprotective and overambitious and it does a lot of damage in the long run. A lot of these issues are discussed on the blog freerangekids*, which advocates involved but relaxed parenting. And which is sometimes characterized by naysayers as lazy, selfish, dangerous, immoral, etc. just because they let their children be children once in a while.

    *no affiliation, just a reader.

  5. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Posts
    1,508

    Re: Structure vs. free-time

    @babylemonade: I often read that blog on "free-range kids" (although I'm not even a parent at this time); I agree with a lot of her points.

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