Let them be free
Found this great article in The Atlantic about kids and free play thanks to a link by Lenore Skenazy (my hero). The article says, “The researchers found that compared to 1981, children in 1997 spent less time in play and had less free time. They spent 18 percent more time at school, 145 percent more time doing school work, and 168 percent more time shopping with parents.” Holy crap that’s a lot of time being directed by adults and shuttled around from place to place.
Thinking about how little kids get to play makes me sad. I used to be on this parenting site (Cafemom which I no longer frequent) and I was constantly aghast at the extent of hovering some mothers do all in the name of “safety”. I mean not letting a 16yo outside alone, ever. That means no trips to the mall with friends, no hanging out after school (unless they are at a preapproved friend’s house and their parents are there), no movies, no dating, no anything but mom half way up their butt. I don’t even know what I would have done as a teen if my mom had wanted that much control over me. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been what I did do: behave. I was a good girl (no drinking, drugs, smoking, parties, sex or anything) because my parents expected me to behave and trusted me. The thought of disappointing them kept me in line because I actually cared about their respect. Not letting your kids have a life is disrespecting them… you can see where that can lead.
Then there was this one crazy woman who said she only allows her kids outside alone IF they are in the locked, fenced back yard and are together. Okay, that seems reasonable for toddlers. Except her kids were 7 and 11. Her 11yo could only be outside if he stayed in the locked back yard. No wonder today’s middle schoolers act like babies. They’re treated like them at home. My 11yo (when she isn’t in front of the TV) is off with her friends doing who knows what. I assume it’s good because she hasn’t, so far, given me reason not to trust her when she is away from me. She even goes with her friends to the store a mile away (her friends are 12 and 13).
Heck, my 5 1/2yo has more freedom than the 11yo above. She’s allowed in our front yard alone but if her older siblings are outside or the older kids in the neighborhood she can go off with them. She goes to the park with them and for walks around the neighborhood. She’s also allowed to walk to and from her friend’s house down the street. She just has to tell me where she’s going.
At home I don’t interfere with the kids play time. I don’t play with them. I’m an adult and I’m no longer interested in playing Barbies or toy cars (although, I can be persuaded to do a puzzle or build with legos). We find other things to do together that don’t involve playing, usually watching favorite TV shows we all enjoy. My kids play with each other or alone or with their friends. As it should be. That is the rightful order of the world, not this distorted idea that a kid’s best friend is his Mommy (and I don’t mean that in a, “my mom was great and now she’s my best friend as an adult,” I mean actual BFF because the kid doesn’t or isn’t allowed to have anyone be closer to them than Mom).
On another website years ago there was a woman having trouble with her sons. At the time my oldest son was 5 or 6 and was the same age as her oldest son. She asked if it was normal for her child to not know how to entertain himself. This wasn’t a case of, “Mom, I’m sooooo bored.” The kid literally could not play without Mom being right there. If she wasn’t giving him her undivided attention he would just sit there and stare or cry or whine. He didn’t know how to self-direct himself or play in a room alone. In that particular post she sighted a night when she was trying to cook dinner. Her son kept begging her to play with him because he was bored. She felt so guilty she stopped cooking to “play.” He wanted to do a puzzle but when she tried to put a piece into the puzzle he got mad and said she couldn’t help. So she went back to cooking and 5 seconds later he was in the kitchen complaining she wasn’t playing with him and he couldn’t finish the puzzle without her “help”. His idea of “help” and “playing” was for her to sit there with him and watch him do things on his own (um, sounds a bit boring to me). She was flabbergasted and confused. And desperate.
I never did find out if her son learned to play alone. The last time I checked that message board was a year later and her son was still unable to be left alone for a minute (because he would be bored) AND her younger son, who was 3, was having the same problem. Not only were the kids depressed and anxious all the time (they didn’t even like being in a room alone, they had to have Mom in sight at all times) but so was mom. She was stressed out from never having a single moment to herself. Her boys followed her everywhere she went. I mean, if she had to pee they were sitting on the tub watching, if she was cooking they were underfoot, if she was watching TV they were right there (which meant only G rated shows), if she tried to do anything they needed her 100% attention. I can’t imagine that life. I would have had more than a nervous breakdown from the stress of being the sole entertainment for 2 kids.
My kids, on the other hand, have no problem playing in their own room (out of sight), entertaining themselves, devising their own games and don’t need my constant, undivided attention. That goes for all of them, even the 15 month old. He’s perfectly happy to sit next to my chair and play with his cars. Or he’ll toddle off to another room to see what mischief he can get into.
Makes me wonder which kid (my son or hers, both are 10 now) will make it in the real world. My son is confident, friendly and is friends with everyone. He knows how to take charge of a situation and get things done. And to play fair. He’s considerate of other’s needs and wants. I imagine, if she didn’t find a solution to her over-involvement, her son will still be demanding, inconsiderate (always expecting to be the center of the universe), lazy, uninspired… I just can’t imagine. I sure hope she figured it out for her son’s sake.