This has become the new normal for American adults. Most days, we don't even think about it anymore. It's normal, and right to be this busy. That's what we tell ourselves. It's all part of growing older, right?
For decades we've been able to convince ourselves of this, pushing our doubts to the back of our mind. After all, do we really have time to think about if this feeling of being rushed is right or wrong? Only in the past few years have we started really digging in deeper and questioning the status quo. The reason we're finally waking up to these issues?
The fate of our children.
Our Frantic Pace - Not Just For Adults
Rewind time a few decades and you'll easily be able to see how much has changed since then. Many changes have been for the betterment of our society and lives in general. However, progress doesn't always mean perfection, or even improvement. This is the case when we look at the lives of our children.
A few decades ago, it wasn't uncommon to see children spending hours outside at a time. Whether they were playing at the park, digging for worms in the dirt, playing kick the can, or simply going on a bear hunt with their grandparents, they had plenty of time to relax and unwind. In short, kids got to be kids.
Fast forward to now. Children are suffering from an epidemic of nature deficit disorder. They are just as stressed as we are as adults, and sometimes more so. Children have a lot on their plates, far before they are developmentally ready for the challenges that come with over-scheduling. Instead of playing in the woods, our kids are being shuffled from activity to activity. The power of play and imagination is largely ignored, and our kids are treated as if they were miniature adults.
And it isn't just in the middle and high school years. It starts much, much sooner than that.
The Overscheduled Preschooler and Kindergartener
Back in the day, preschool wasn't even a thing. The littlest tots spent their days with their parents or a good babysitter, possibly another member of the family. They spent their days helping with chores, learning how to care for themselves, baking cookies and other sweet treats, taking naps, being read to, and most of all, lots of play.
When a child entered formal education, often in the kindergarten year but sometimes later, not a whole lot changed. They'd learn more self-care tasks, sing the abc's, learn colors and so on. These things are considered pre-reqs now, and these small children are expected to be reading by the end of the year, sometimes sooner. Instead of a play-based education model for the child's first formal year, they're expected to spend much of the day sitting at a desk.
This is troubling. Children this small need to stretch and run more than they need to sit. They need imaginative based play and often a rest period in the middle of the day. Studies have shown that not reading in kindergarten will not affect the future progress of the child, so why do we push so hard, so young?
A Full-Time Job, and then Some
Most of us work full-time jobs. After clocking in and putting in our hours, all we want to do is go home, relax, and unwind from the stresses of the day. We often don't stop to think about how our children and students feel, sitting in a classroom for almost as long as we're at work. They, as children, haven't even built up the willpower and stamina necessary to sit through so many hours of education, day in and day out. After a long day, they too, deserve to go home to their families and relax.
But in reality, that's rarely what happens, even in the elementary school years when this unwinding time is needed the most.
In reality, children as young as 5 years old are bombarded with homework at least several times per week. Sometimes, children are expected to do extra work every school night, into the weekend, and even over summer vacation. These are times when young children should be bonding with their family after hours of separation. They should be running in the backyard, being read stories to, helping with dinner, and spending valuable time talking to mom and dad, or simply reading a book to themselves.
Sadly, this is almost impossible in modern society. The pressures on children's time are too great.
Sports and School Activities - Ever Increasing Demands on Children's Time
Kids are already pretty busy, between the many hours spent at school, the bus ride to and from their place of education, and the homework they are often given to do in their off hours. For people so small and new to the world, one would think that's all they needed on their plates. But in a culture that stresses constant activity, kids are never left to just be kids.
There are after-school programs that promise to entertain children for a few extra hours. Most are designed to help children get their homework done, but we all know things don't always go as planned, not for every student. Each child is an individual, after all, with different strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Many children need one on one support to get these assignments done. If the program is a full one, there often isn't time to help each and every student.
Even for kids who aren't involved in these afterschool activities, there are still a lot of demands placed on their free time that are directly related to school. Extra practices for band and music, concerts, parent-teacher conferences, field trips on off hours, bake sales, fundraisers, even ice cream socials. While some of these are fun and even enriching, too much of anything can be a bad thing. When all these good things cut into a child's time to play and discover who they are as individuals, problems begin to crop up.
The same goes for sports. Beloved in our culture, pretty much every child is expected to participate in one if not more than one. This can be a great outlet for stress and pent up energy, but again, too much of a good thing can be detrimental. With all the homework they already have, adding sports into the mix is just another thing to drain the child's energy.
We aren't the only ones suffering from over-scheduling and rising stress levels. Our children are as well. It's time to make a change. Studies show that with these jam-packed schedules, children aren't even getting enough sleep to function. It's time for us as parents and teachers to call for more free play and less forcing children to grow up before they're ready. Let's go back and simplify.
It's time to let kids be kids again.