Happy August! It’s a great time to relax & recharge before the demands of fall. Take time for yourself this month and do things you really enjoy.
I grew up in the suburbs of New York when childhood was more free & parents didn’t micromanage our whereabouts. I remember my parents saying, “Go outside, ride your bicycle, read a book”. I would meet up with my friends in the neighborhood and we’d play all day; often not returning till dinner time. Our parents didn’t really know where we were specifically except that we were somewhere in the neighborhood and with the kids that they knew. On days when it wasn’t nice out, we were left to our own devices of playing games, or reading a book. Turning on the TV in the afternoon was not an option.
There was a freedom that does not exist for our children today. It was all about play & exploration. All we had was our friends, the outdoors and our thoughts.
Exploration and creativity are often missing with today’s kids. As the pandemic hit, parents were left scrambling to fill all these hours of unscheduled time for their kids. Some activities were conducted remotely, but most were canceled. The screens became the default for younger kids and for older ones; it was their only social connection.
As our society reopens, going back to our pre pandemic activities looks enticing, but before we start ‘‘overbooking” our children in activities again, I suggest we all take a pause and rethink this strategy. Exposing our children to sports, arts, music, dance has great benefits; namely giving them exercise, artistic stimulation and fun. However, there’s also a good reason to give children some time to be bored. The main reason is it forces them to figure out ways to entertain themselves, get creative and have some “downtime” to just think and be in their heads.
I’ve mentioned this idea before about reassessing whether we want to go back to our overscheduled lives post pandemic & even suggested activities that we can all do to spur more independent play with our children. The pandemic provided a forced “respite” from our overscheduled lives and many of us learned the beauty of reconnecting with ourselves and those in our family. We finally had the time and space to just “Be Together” without having to run somewhere.
Some amount of extracurricular activity is a great break from screens and it can help your child nurture their interests & even assist with them finding some great passion in their life. But, research has shown that too much overscheduling has been bad for stress and mental health. For many kids today being on their screens is their only activity outside of school.
Kids are starting to feel pressured at even younger ages to be competitive for college. Parents are pushing them to pad their resumes with more and more activities to help them stand out in the process. New data suggests that all this overscheduling & extra enrichment doesn’t equate to greater success, or even entry into the best colleges.
The suggestion is to address all this overscheduled time with things like art projects, walks in the neighborhood, weekend hikes, cooking together, or just sitting and reading a book. The idea is just to create more “unstructured” time for your kids. These things are unlikely to replace screens altogether, but maybe less structure can introduce children and teenagers to new interests and passions. But, also it might just create more “calmness”.
Another idea I really embrace is the idea of getting our kids into activities that are more “civic minded”. As parents, we can reinforce the idea of caring for others. You can take your kids to volunteer at food pantries or animal shelters to cultivate empathy. You can talk about causes openly in the home and talk to your children about the benefits of actively participating in a cause, or a political injustice that might inspire them. A great way to begin is through viewing movies or documentaries about history or cultural events, or to have discussions about what they’re learning in school that might excite them. This is a great way to encourage your children to express their viewpoints and ideas and to show them you value their opinion.
These are valuable skills in life that can offset their own anxieties about their individual success. Many experts have even proposed mandatory civic involvement for a year post high school. The objective is to instill independence, create skill sets that are uniquely geared towards benefiting others.
Research indicates that youth who volunteer are more likely to feel connected to their communities, do better in school and are less likely to engage in risky behavior.
Your kids might complain when you pull them off their screens for a bike ride around the neighborhood, or an afternoon working at a food pantry, but the feelings they will gain will far outweigh the complaints and groans you will have to endure. Your kids may complain about their boredom if they’re less scheduled because today’s kids have rarely experienced sheer boredom. But, that’s ok, left to their own devices kids will be very creative. Some of our best ideas have come from times of boredom.
Reach out and let me know how you are finding this balance within your family?
I’m hosting a webinar on October 14 – Finding Calm in the Chaos! This webinar will be free or you may choose to make a donation via Venmo (@JaneRomeo). You can sign up through this link.