Lamenting Children's Lack Of Unstructured Imaginative Playtime
March 28, 2007
Several months ago, I answered a question from a parent who was bemoaning that in her community, structured activities for preschoolers have become the standard by which a mom is measured - that is, the more activities a preschooler is enrolled in, the better the mom. My petitioner specifically mentioned Kindermusik and Gymboree, and I responded that while none of those activities were harmful per se, the harm was in the fact that today's children are not obtaining the benefits of sufficient unstructured imaginative play. The villains are well-intentioned adults who believe they must micromanage everything children do in order for children to obtain full benefit.
I pointed out that kids seem to have gotten along fine before adults decided they could not figure out how to play on their own. In the process of directing their own play, they learned social skills, including negotiation and conflict resolution, that today's kids miss. I also mentioned that no one has yet demonstrated what disadvantage there is for a child who doesn't have those activities in preschool years. Although I did not mention Kindermusik in my reply, the nerves of Kindermusik teachers nationwide were scratched. Nearly 100 of them sent me e-mails (of which half looked suspiciously similar).
I am revisiting that column to make perfectly clear that I stand firm on the issue. I don't really care how supposedly valuable any given preschool activity is; I am continually and permanently disturbed that so few of today's kids are being allowed to just play. Instead, their discretionary time is organized and directed by adults who believe they are on an anointed mission to "improve" them. The unintended consequence is that these children are being deprived of the full benefit of childhood. As they grow, the problem of adult over-involvement only worsens until the teen years, by which time kids don't know how to make creative use of their time, so they turn to such mind-numbing activities as video games.
Shortly after that column appeared, psychologist David Elkind's ("The Hurried Child") latest book, "The Power of Play" (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2006, $24), hit the shelves. I don't generally review books because I don't want publishers inundating me with requests, but I'm going to break with policy in this case. I think every parent should read this book. In fact, I'm making it an assignment.
Elkind says play is being "silenced" by adult-organized activities, television, video games, and an over-emphasis on academics that has led to the shortening (and in some cases elimination) of recess and physical education. He makes a coherent, readable and altogether fascinating case for adults who are childhood-friendly instead of focused on making sure their kids participate in every "advantage" available.
What it boils down to is that most adults no longer possess a sense of proper boundaries where kids are concerned. They seem to believe that the more involved they are, the better. By contrast, when I was a child, it was my job to keep my parents from getting involved. If I accepted and properly discharged my academic responsibilities, they didn't get involved, and what a wonderful thing that was for them and me both. If I conducted myself properly outside the home, they didn't get involved, and what a wonderful thing that was for them and me both. If I did my chores properly and on time, they didn't get involved, and what a wonderful thing that was for them and me both.
Low adult involvement is still a wonderful, liberating thing for both adult and child. In the most compelling way possible, David Elkind recommends that you give it a try, and I second that emotion.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website, www.rosemond.com.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
From the Archives
Image via Wikipedia(This guy has a real knack for grating on my nerves even when I agree with him, as I definitely do in this case. I'm not going to read the book mentioned because I already agree with the thesis, but I wish more of the people fretting about "the danger hours" after school would get a grip. I think we're seeing so much asinine behavior on college campuses because we're seeing the first wave of kids who have been ultra-parented--under constant surveillance-- since birth. We're seeing them let out now as freshmen what they should have gotten out when they were 4th graders.)