Tag Archives: Development

Overscheduling Kids Negatively Affects Development: Parenting Without Borders, Part 6

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own. In Part 6, we’ll look at the importance of unstructured “play.”

There’s an epidemic of overscheduling kids in the US and it’s negatively affecting development. You’ve probably heard or seen the stereotype: afterschool, little Johnny is off to baseball practice on Mondays, piano practice on Tuesdays, swimming on Wednesday, every other Thursday is Boy Scouts, and on Friday, the family goes to the cottage (when there aren’t piano recitals, baseball games, or swimming tests on the weekends). Oh, there’s also little Julie who has all of her extracurricular activities afterschool, too. Don’t get me wrong, certainly those activities will be helpful in little Johnny or little Julia’s development (within those activities), but they will be harmful in other ways.

All of the activities I mentioned above are structured activities. Meaning, there are clear and set boundaries and defined outcomes contained within. Kids will certainly learn from these kinds of activities, but they are being robbed of the importance and value of unstructured play. From the book:

One survey found that 79% of middle and high school students participate in some sort of activities during the weekdays or on the weekends; 57% have an extracurricular activity every day or almost every day. As scheduled activities have increased, the amount of outdoor time children enjoy has plummeted. Today, the average American child is spending only between four and seven [!] minutes in unstructured outdoor play.

It looks like it’s implied in the passage that this is daily play (but it doesn’t specify). Four to seven minutes — are you kidding me? That’s the amount of time we’re supposed to be spending brushing our teeth everyday (three times a day, at least two minutes each). How the heck is an imagination supposed to develop in only 5 minutes a day?

Oh, I guess I didn’t tell you about that yet, did I:

Childhood play is how kids construct meaning and make sense of the world when they are little, and discover what they love as they grow. Play is a springboard for creativity: as kids pretend and make up their own games, they create possibilities out of thin air. Pretend play is an especially crucial way to hone human intelligence because of how it enables kids to envision possibilities.

So I say again, how is an imagination supposed to keenly develop in 5 minutes a day?

In this chapter, Gross-Loh also tries to draw connections to the rise in childhood obesity and increase in the use of antidepressants in American children. While those points are valid, I think the previous point — development of creativity — is a strong enough argument for more unstructured play all on its own. I mean, some parents often lament the shrinking amount of time spent on arts and physical education in schools. It turns out, children’s access to “arts” is probably getting a similar treatment (by having been overscheduled and given little time to develop their imagination).

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It turns out that part of the shift to structured activities began in the ’80s and ’90s when the media alerted us to new research in brain development. However, as is often the case when it comes to the media reporting on scientific research, there was a disconnect between what the research actually said and what was expressed in the news. The message from the research was mainly geared to “disadvantaged children” (about the importance of those earlier years) and then the message became co-opted such that all parents thought it was important to focus on those early years. As it happens, this may be to the detriment of children:

Researchers found that early-learning centers, which promise to give infants, toddlers, and preschoolers an academic head start, produced children who eventually had more difficulty: anxiety about tests, lowered creativity, and less of a liking for academics. Many studies show that “artificial stimulation” — early learning that is developmentally inappropriate — can be counterproductive and even hinder children’s development. One well-known study showed that the more babies watched educational baby videos, the more their vocabulary dropped.

There are also myriad behavioural issues that can develop by trying to force this early learning on kids (and we wonder why there’s been an explosion in the diagnosis of kids with ADD or ADHD?). There’s probably a number of reasons for the higher frequency in that diagnosis, but I suspect that the pressures felt by parents to force their kids into environments that will foster behavioural issues is a factor.

I’m already close to 1000 words and I haven’t even talked about how the effects that overscheduling has on a child’s ability to figure out what they’re passionate about (how can you figure out with you like when you’re always being shuttled from activity to activity?) or how it’s important to intersperse physical activity with learning (breaks are essential to improving a person’s attention).

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One of the main reasons that I chose to write about this book through a series was to make sure that I presented different perspectives, so I wanted to make sure that I offer a few examples of that before closing this post.

In Denmark, there’s a forest kindergarten for students between the ages of three and six. Gross-Loh shared a delightful anecdote about the kids wanting to go swimming in the sea (in the winter) and how the teacher didn’t tell them about how the water was frozen. Instead, the class all walked to the sea to learn that in the winter, the water is frozen and that when you break the ice and go in the water (yes, some of the kids put their feet/legs in), the water is extremely cold. A perfect quote from that story: “There is no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothing.”

In Germany, they also have a forest school where it’s not only normal, but it’s encouraged for kids of different ages to be playing together (just like we learned in Japan in previous chapters).

And let’s leave the last word to Gross-Loh:

The children spend “off task” — time that might seem idle and wasted — is often full of interior richness. Children are doing exactly what they should be doing. The benefits of play seem, to me, to be as crucial for our kids’ futures as anything we enroll them in, because through play, they internalize a valuable lifelong attitude: the idea that they have the power to make something of their own lives, and that they can create so much out of so little.

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How Do You Know When You’re “Right” to be in the Minority?

For about a month, I’ve had a note on my list of things to write about as “Majority vs. Minority: Hard to Oppose the Majority.” I don’t remember which event sparked this thought, but it was rekindled a few days ago with the anniversary of the March on Washington. I’ve read different takes on what it was like during the Civil Rights movement, but I can never *truly* know because I wasn’t there. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to oppose such an oppressive majority opinion at the time. This isn’t the only time in history that the majority opinion has been — eventually — overturned, or at least, subdued. You can point to most revolutions throughout history as definite examples.

My question: how do you know when you’re on the right side?

I suppose there can’t be a universal fact-based answer to knowing you’re on the right side because every situation will be different. More than that, every person will have to decide for themselves what’s the “right” side and the “wrong” side. But maybe it’s too narrowing to think in terms of right and wrong. It certainly makes life easier when things are boxed into right and wrong, but that’s not always the case. As we know from theories of moral development, what was once immoral at one stage, becomes justifiably moral at another.

The more I think about this issue, the more I think there’s probably a good book in here. There’s a lot to explore from sociological, anthropological, and psychological perspectives. It’s certainly not easy to oppose the majority. There’s a strong urge to conform.

I think if I had to provide a thesis, it might be something to the effect of: the only person who can decide whether to support the majority opinion or the minority opinion is you. Sure, taking in opinions/facts from others is important in making your decision, but ultimately, you’ve got to decide for yourself whether this is something you want to support (or oppose). We’ve each got our own moral compass (or conscience). This little voice inside is how you can know and if you choose to go against that voice, it is only you who will have to deal with it.

Be Yourself: Erring on the Side of Authenticity

I’ve had very spotty internet connectivity over the past week or so and that’s why you haven’t seen any new posts from me for a while. I’ll continue to have spotty internet connectivity probably until next week, but there’s something I wanted to say before I got back into writing regularly here.

Just before the new year clicked over, someone passed along the trailer for Seth Godin’s new book. I’ve included it below:

After watching that trailer — it made sense. While I’m not necessarily an artist, I think the message that Godin is promoting is important: there is a bias for the middle road. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but that bias to the middle road does come at a price. I’d say that this is something that I certainly have been mindful of with the things I’ve written about online. Some may point to my series on psi phenomena (telepathy, precognition, etc.) as evidence that I’ve long since blown past the middle road, but when I wrote those posts, I was careful to make sure that I cited a litany of scientific studies supporting the existence of such phenomena. Others may point to posts like the one I’ve written about hugs instead of handshakes, but that doesn’t seem like it’s too far from the middle road.

Regardless of who points to what, I wanted to say — today — I’m declaring that I’m going to err on the side of authenticity. What does that mean? Well, in the past, I may have shied away from sharing his opinion or that opinion — especially because it’s online! — ‘and things online are forever.’ I’ve come to realize that this is silly. Yes, I’ve read all the things out there about how the pictures you post online or the things you write about online could prevent you from getting job-x or job-y. I understand that, but I still think it’s important to strive to learn. How can I expect myself to grow/learn, if I don’t share some of my sensitive ideas and open them up for discussion and debate? How can I expect to have these ideas challenged and improved? I certainly can’t.

When I started writing on the internet, I had this idea in mind. That is, I was mindful that my ideas in this moment, on January 8th, 2013, might not be the ideas that I have on January 8th, 2014. As a result, I wrote a bit about it in my disclaimer:

I am the creator of this blog and my perspective of five years or five minutes ago do not necessarily reflect my views right now. My thoughts, opinions and viewpoints will change as I learn, grow, and develop my understanding of the world. Therefore, I reserve the right to allow my viewpoints to evolve and to change my thoughts, viewpoints and opinions over time without assigning any reason for such changes.

I truly believe this and hope that those who may look to things I’ve written in the past and try to hold it against me will realize that I fully expect that my ideas will grow, shift, and change. This seems important to make note of because who knows, I may yet one day run for public office and I could totally imagine a clever reporter digging up things I’ve written in the past with glee showing that I was, in fact, on the “other” side of an issue that I may be staunchly for (in that present day). Who knows what the future holds.

I know one thing’s for sure, the kind of change that I want to be part of on a global scale certainly won’t be made by me (or others) erring on the side of the middle road. So long as I’m true to myself — authentic — and keep to my ethics/morals, I feel confident in standing up for whatever I’ve said.

So — this is not to say that I’m going to start advocating some extreme positions in tomorrow’s post (or even the next day’s), but I will, as the title suggests, err on the side of authenticity. I hope you’ll join me in this learning experience — maybe we’ll be able to teach each other something.