Struggling With Unstructured Play

I’ve messed up my kids – we’re one day into Spring Break and I am sure of that fact.

Staying home with my family today, I’ve realized that my Good-Bad Dad fast breaking pace might need to change – and change quickly for the benefit of the little ones I thought I was serving.

Today I learned that my kids know two forms of passing time – (a) an adult-led, organized activity or (b) that which is provided by technology.  I saw firsthand that they are virtually incapable of using creativity when given a “blank canvas” of playtime.  It’s not their fault, it’s mine.

One of the tenets of being a Good-Bad Dad is the ability to get everything done for the sake of your children.  When my GBD head hits the pillow, I’ve given my kids my all – I’m relentlessly busy doing right by my five kids.

Whether it be at school or at home, my children are constantly told what to do, the rules to follow while doing it and the time they will be given to accomplish the assigned activity.  There is no time to color outside of the lines for my little artists.

(L:R) Vivi (age 6) and Yosef (age 10) paint at a recent art festival (Feb. 2016)

(L:R) Vivi (age 6) and Yosef (age 10) paint at a recent art festival (Feb. 2016)

My 3 year-old might be the only one of my kids that is able to play without direction.  He is not encumbered by the pressure to be anywhere at a particular time or the thought of following established rules.

Technology has not entered his world like it has inundated my older kids.  Each child has access to a tablet and a slew of movies, games and cartoons on television whenever they want.  Although we limit the screen time each gets, my kids try anything to get more.  All technology is “on-demand” and always ready during any downtime.

While I agree that kids should use technology, its use at the cost of social interaction is unhealthy – at all ages.  The tablet has become the go-to, non-school activity for my children and I hate it.

I have acknowledged the problem I see, so logic tells me to start finding solutions.  If curiosity and awareness is important, it becomes my job to be the change agent for my kids.

My Good-Bad Dad dilemma begins now – the realization that I created the culture of hurry and hustle that leads to this “check the box”, “what do I do next” existence.

If I were to be honest about the amount of free-form time my children have on a normal day, I’d be lying if I told you more than thirty minutes.  In fact, the tight routine we have to get to school, work and to activities each night makes carving out time for a family meal and daily catch up difficult.

My kids aren’t left to be kids enough, therefore I should not be surprised when they struggle to thrive when structure is not provided for them.

This seems so easy to fix, right?  Just start cutting the non-essentials.  I agree, but will refuse to act.

The reality is that I will continue to over-commit because I’m scared that doing otherwise will limit my kids’ experiences.  I am tormented by the thought of, in ten years, my sons or daughters saying, “I’d really wished I would have been able to do…”

I am not the only parent that operates in parenting over-drive.  Most parents I see work similarly – wanting the best for their kids.  This creates a closet intra-parent competition which further strengthens the “go-go-go” mentality.

My kids and others are paying the price of the pressure to do it all.  They cannot generate ideas freely without the input of an adult.  There is more data available to my kids at the cost of emotional intelligence and true friendships.

Just as important as developing a good left foot in soccer or a perfect pirouette in ballet is the ability for my children to be at play – real play, not that manufactured by “play dates.”

My kids need to be at play with no rules, only imagination.

At play with no supervision, only blue skies and green grass.

At play with themselves as their only judge and referee.

Allowing my kids to do so should rightfully shift my parenting focus from training the next Messi to helping create a contributing, attentive, creative and entrepreneurial future leader.

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3 Comments

  1. Deborah

    Maybe a good question to ask yourself is in ten years will my kids regret not having free play as a kid and being so busy? Both activities and free time have pros and cons and risks of regret.

    I have enjoyed looking through your site. You are a wonderful writer and are obviously a good father.

    • Tobin Walsh

      Deborah,

      Thank you for visiting and please come back again!

      I appreciate the comments. At the heart of the being a GBD is exactly the thought you talk about – will I regret the decisions I’ve made for my kids in 5, 10, 15 years? This questions works me to exhaustion (and likely my kids as well).

      Thanks again!
      Tobin

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