Itʼs July! That time of year when we watch fireworks, have picnics, and express gratitude for our constitutional freedoms. Those things are all good, but freedom has another important angle that may be getting overlooked in our culture. Itʼs not related to patriotism or a national holiday, itʼs about how we raise our kids.
Freedom is healthy for kids just as political freedoms are for our society. Nobody likes to be told what to do all the time, or have all of their activities planned for them every day. Kids need a chance to figure things out for themselves sometimes. They need the freedom to be occasionally bored. To decide how to spend their time and what things are worthy of it. They need the freedom to play imaginatively, making the rules up as they go. They need the chance to try things that donʼt work. They need to figure out what to do after something has failed. They need the freedom to struggle through problems and figure out how to solve them on their own.
Am I saying we should let our kids do whatever they want and be totally hands-off parents? Of course not!
But as I observe how things have changed since my own childhood, Iʼm worried that weʼre over- structuring our kids, denying them the freedom of free-time. I spent many summers as a kid playing baseball with my neighborhood friends. Weʼd meet at the same field most mornings, choose teams, and play until lunchtime, when we went home. We were close to home and our parents knew where we were. If we decided to quit early and go to somebodyʼs house, it was ok as long as we let our parents know. Most afternoons weʼd be playing somewhere in the neighborhood, checking in with parents as they required. Today is a different time for sure and I know many parents are not comfortable with that type of arrangement, and thatʼs okay. Plus, all of my friends had a parent at home during the day so there was always an adult nearby. Today, there are many more families where both parents work. So things are different now and thatʼs okay too.
But it worries me when I see kids going through an entire summer where every day is structured. Summer day camps are very popular and with good reason- there are endless varieties of them and many seem like a great time! Same goes for organized sports, which seem to be more popular than ever and can start at a young age. These things arenʼt bad by themselves, but I wonder how many kids go from one structured activity to the next, every day, without learning to deal with the freedom of unstructured time. I know this happens routinely during the school year. The school day is highly structured, then kids go home and embark on their afterschool activities, which are usually organized and structured as well.
Again, these things alone are not bad. But a kid could easily find themselves in a situation where they are void of free time year-round. They can quickly get stressed out, just like an adult in need of a vacation. Schools see this stressed behavior all the time and with increasing frequency. And just because the structured activities are fun, doesnʼt mean they shouldnʼt be balanced with some unstructured downtime.
Free-time is needed to allow growth, recovery and discovery. Just like adults, kids need some time to do what they want, when they want. Itʼs July, let freedom (and free-time) ring.