Today’s children are busy, and when a child enters middle school schedules can get even busier. In fact, your child’s schedule, and yours may at times be harried and overwhelming. But free time is important for children, especially as they enter puberty and adolescence. While too much free time can become problematic, it’s important for parents to make sure that their tween has a balance between scheduled activities and time for him or herself. If your tween can’t seem to keep up with responsibilities, it might be because he has too many. Below are a few considerations when evaluating your child’s free time.
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Why Children Need Free Time
- Free Time is Often Overlooked: Parents often have the best of intentions, but many parents are guilty of over-scheduling their children, programming their schedules with extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and other demands. The reasons behind the trend in over-scheduling children are numerous. Some parents simply want to give their child opportunities that they never had. Others hope to make their children more competitive and better prepared for a successful high school experience, and beyond. While it is important for a child to pursue interests, hobbies or passions, it’s also important for children to learn how to enjoy downtime. Studies show that children who are overscheduled often feel overwhelmed and pressured, and that can lead to a number of problems including behavioral issues and emotional challenges. In other words, over-scheduled children can be stressed out. Resist the urge to sign your child up for every activity that’s available. Instead, help your child prioritize his or her interest. By doing so you’re teaching your tween the skill of decision making, and that downtime should also be a priority to consider.
- Tweens Need to Think: Middle school can be stressful. Just consider all the challenges and obstacles a middle school student might face: bullies; increase in homework responsibilities; pressure to excel and to be competitive; friendship issues; dating; puberty; and more. All of those challenges require a little time on your child’s part to think it through and find ways to manage it. Allowing your child the free time to do that will help your tween put it all into perspective and move on. And allowing your child the time to think also give you an opportunity to talk with one another and work through issues together. If you’re rushing from one responsibility to another, conversations can be short and condensed. Allow your child the time to open up to you, or another family member.
- Tweens Need to Relax: Adults understand the need to relax after a stressful week of work. Tweens are no different. If you’ve had a very busy week, you probably just want to go home and watch a little television. Your child might feel the same way. Free time allows your child to do nothing, or to something he’s looked forward to all week.
- Free Time Makes People Happy: Studies show that people are generally happier on the weekends. Why? On the weekends, people get to choose their own activities, spend time with the people they like and distance themselves from weekday responsibilities. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
- Tweens Need Time to Daydream: Daydreaming is something children are often criticized for, but children should daydream, just not in class. Daydreaming allows children to think of possible futures for themselves, and to consider all the possibilities that are in front of them. But you can’t daydream if you don’t have the leisure time to do so. While pretend play is important for toddlers and preschoolers, daydreaming is important to tweens and teens. Allow your child the time to think about his future, and you might be surprised at the results.