You would think that raising kids would be pretty easy by now, wouldn’t you? After all the human race has around 200,000 years of doing just that fairly successfully (if we weren’t successful we wouldn’t be here of course!). But it seems in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that this has become suddenly complex beyond belief.
Children, we are told, must be cosseted, protected from any possibility of ‘harm’, no matter how slight. They must be indulged, served, pandered to and every waking moment must be filled with just the right mix of ‘structured activities’ that will guarantee that little James or Jemima turns into the next Einstein/Beethoven/Pavlova/Williams.
Recent research also shows that our children are unable to deal with just 24 hours without access to media and technology. After a short time they start to suffer symptoms of what is very obviously addiction withdrawal. One of the interesting conclusions was: “Particularly noteworthy was the short attention spans of the students – how quickly they became bored and lost interest in the alternative activities they did try.”
It seems clear to me that there is a connection between this and early development. This addiction starts in early childhood, encouraged and indeed fostered by parents. James/Jemima are given a TV and cartoons, electronic puzzles and toys; a little later it’s a PlayStation or similar. It’s very easy to fool yourself that your child is doing well if you can just sit them down in front of something electronic that’s labelled ‘educational’.
The problem with all of these things is that they are entirely passive, not just in a physical sense but also in a mental sense. James and Jemima don’t need to imagine a cave with monsters, they’re spoon-fed the whole visual experience. There’s no need to imagine a spaceship and aliens from another world, it’s provided for them. Not just that but in toys too, why imagine what anything looks like when they can just be given a detailed example where all the imagination has been done by the (adult) designers?
When I was young, my parents didn’t try to fill every minute of my time. In fact they used to just tell me to ‘find something to do’. The idea was that left to my own devices I would figure out a way of keeping myself occupied, whether by reading, inventing imaginary worlds, playing (physically) with friends. As long as we weren’t getting in to ‘mischief’ there was no problem and if we did we were *gasp* punished!
But think about this. All of that play, all of that imagination, all of that ‘unstructured time’ permitted and required that we use our minds, that we used our imaginations. By doing that we were training ourselves to think, to focus, to concentrate and develop our independence of thought. Sure, we didn’t know we were ‘training’ anything; we were just playing.
It seems obvious that we need to rediscover this idea. By providing everything in spoon-fed, predigested form we take away the tools and processes our children need to develop their minds (and bodies) fully.
Studies by the University of Michigan reveal the devastating trend – since the 1970s, “children have lost 12 hours per week in free time, including a 25 percent drop in play and a 50 percent drop in unstructured outdoor activities.” Not only that but “homework increased dramatically between 1981 and 1997”. The amount given to 6- to 8-year-olds increasing 300% .
We think by giving them everything, that we are being ‘good parents’, when in reality we are harming their overall development and raising people who can’t think for themselves, who suffer from ‘attention deficit’ and who believe that anything in the media is ‘real’. We’re breeding sheep for the exploitation of whoever controls the channels pumping non-stop drivel into our children’s heads.
Don’t handicap your kids by denying them the value of being bored. Boredom stimulates both imagination and activity, both of which are highly valuable and make people what they should be: intelligent, focused, adaptable and valuable.
Let them play.