June 10, 2014

Protecting Kids’ Time

The barrage of summer advertisements started months ago, even as most of the country remained buried in mountains of snow during our recent interminable winter:

Celebrate the Sun!
Beach Week!
Summer Camp, Summer Camp, Summer Camp!

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with participating in special activities available only in summer; we should join in on any fun to which we feel truly drawn. However, there’s a vast difference between judiciously choosing worthwhile summer activities and jumping compulsively at every opportunity.

Over the years, I’ve known way too many families who enroll their children in a different intensive activity every week of the summer in order to “keep them busy.” Thus, these children move right from the frying pan of an exhausting school year into the fire of constant summer programming without any opportunity to decompress and truly relax.

Why? Sometimes it’s because the parents have bought the lie that busy-ness equals worth. They believe they lack value unless they’re constantly in motion – usually with work-related matters - and they feel their children must also be engaged in continual “productivity” – as defined by adults. At other times, parents whose children have been away at school for seven or more hours a day, 180 days a year, tragically doubt their ability to meaningfully engage with their own kids. So they stuff the children’s summer days with outside activity to mask their own insecurities about being “home alone” with their children.

Of course, it would be equally unhealthy for kids to wile away their summer hours in front of the TV or other electronics. In fact, since so many children get hours of screen time every day during the rest of the year – both in school and out - summer is a great time to stash the ipad and limit access to the remote. And a week of camp or VBS, along with other structured activities peppered throughout the summer, can have real value for many reasons.

But kids also need time to just “be” – to spend entire afternoons tucked into the crook of a tree limb reading favorite books…to be carried away for days into a marvelous imaginary world created with siblings and neighbors…to go on picnics with mom and casually peruse the nature trails afterward. These types of activities needn’t be orchestrated weeks in advance; instead, if we commit to living life in the moment and gifting our kids and ourselves with the blessing of open-ended free time, we’ll discover a child’s version of “productivity” in the process. Since time is a key factor in the development of every person’s genius qualities and multiple intelligence strengths, shouldn’t we aim to protect it in this way?


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