'Here's some soothing medicine for stressed out parents and overscheduled kids," read an Associated Press story on Monday. "The American Academy of Pediatrics says what children really need for healthy development is more good, old-fashioned playtime."
This is supposed to relax us parents? Are you kidding? After my kid does two hours of homework and baseball practice and the recommended 30 minutes a day of reading and at least a couple of pages of the "Get Your Fifth-Grader Into A Good Middle School That Will Get Him Into a Good High School That Will Get Him Into a Good College that Will Get Him a House and Three Kids in Teaneck" workbook, now I have to make sure he gets out there and PLAYS, too?
Uh ... wait a sec. I guess I see the point.
The Academy is saying something that needed saying: Kids are so overscheduled today they are missing out on the biggest enrichment class of them all playtime.
"Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength," the docs reported. And yet, for many well-intentioned parents, it's last on the list of approved activities.
First and foremost, I blame cable. Not kids watching cable (although three hours of the Cartoon Network will turn anyone's brain into Go-Gurt). ADULTS watching cable that's the problem. Because any time some poor child gets abducted or, G-d forbid, killed, it is on the news all day. Sometimes all decade.
As the anchors grimly shake their heads for the zillionth time, it's almost impossible to remember the truth: These horrible incidents are not increasing. They are on TV precisely because they are rare. We live in very safe times, and New York City is the safest it has been since the '60s. So it is no nuttier to let your kid ride her bike outside today than it was when the Bradys were still a Bunch.
But try telling that to your friends. I have. They look at me as if I've just found them the perfect baby-sitter: Mark Foley!
Result? The kids stay inside watching cable. (See the cycle?) Or else they play computer games. Or they sit plopped in front of some video that's supposed to make them a genius because, as we all know, that's how Mozart got his start. With most of the kids inside, the kids who do venture out can't find anyone to play with. So in they go, too.
And that's assuming those kids have any free time to begin with! The children not cooped up with their electronics are often cooped up someplace else dance class or soccer practice or after-school homework help.
These programs aren't bad. My family does them, too. But when supervised activities fill every free moment, kids never get a chance to figure out how to entertain themselves, or even how to deal with other kids without some grownup saying, "Okay, Tyler, now YOU bounce the ball."
That's why plain old playtime may actually help your child more than yet another season of tae kwon do-based new math tutoring on ice.
If you're wondering which one to squeeze in, ask your kid.