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Is Society Robbing Youth of Their Childhood?

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We live in a society where parents are encouraged to expose their children to a variety of activities, starting at a young age, to give their children a better future. Because of this children grow up with schedules packed full of activities, leaving very little time to just be kids. Recently, when I sat down to think of a topic for my math IA I began to fill out the topic sheet. The first question on the sheet asked me to write down some of my hobbies. It seemed like a simple task, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I spend the majority of my time either in school, playing sports or trying to catch up on sleep. Whenever I have had to answer that question in the past, I always answered sports, sleeping, or Netflix because my days are usually scheduled in full, and don’t allow for a lot of free time to do other things. While it is my decision to participate in sports, clubs, and to choose my classes, our society as a whole has seen a major decline in the amount of free time most children have.

Ask any adult and they will most likely tell you about how their childhood was made up of relatively unstructured time playing outside with friends and exploring the world around them. According to a study referenced by Peter Gray, a Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Boston College, the amount of free time students have has decreased dramatically from 1981 to 1997, the years the study gathered data from. This is all due to an increase in pressure and homework from schools as well as emphasis on adult directed activities. According to the study, children spent 145 percent more time doing school work in 1997 than they did in 1981, and it has  only continued to increase. Not only is the amount of unstructured time decreasing, but the weight that is put on the structured activities has increased. Many students are now, more than ever, being told that they need to participate in more extracurricular activities in order to build their resumes and be a competitive applicant for colleges.

Having unstructured time is incredibly important for early development and happiness. In order to know what you want to pursue in the future you need to have explored a large variety of activities, and free plays gives kids a chance to do that as well as develop social and thinking skills. In addition, free time is extremely valuable for decompressing and relaxing. This change in the way society believes children should spend their time has had a lot of unintended consequences.

The decrease in independent time has seen a large increase in the number of kids and students who suffer from anxiety and depression. According to a recent study done by Jean Twenge at San Diego State University, students entering college are more anxious and depressed than any other generation studied going back to 1938. Since most of the results are a consequence of overworked and overscheduled teenagers, I encourage students to take a break every once in awhile. It may seem counterproductive. but a personal day may be the best thing you can do for yourself. While I am a huge offender of overscheduling myself, I believe that it is important to prioritize and give yourself free time to explore something new or just relax.

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