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kid tuning a guitar

Anyone who’s set lofty goals for their little kids knows the pain of forcing them to suit up for karate or sit down for a piano lesson on a picture-perfect day, when every fiber of their little beings (not to mention their not so little voices) is begging to go play outside.

Well, good news, Tiger Moms and Tiger Mom wannabes (Mountain Lion moms?): Now there’s scientific proof you can all just stay home—at least once in a while.

A group of UK scientists studied nearly 50 families with kids ages 9 to 11 in northern England. Their goal was to explore how “initiating and facilitating children's organized activities is considered a central aspect of ‘good’ parenting in middle-class social networks.” They also examined the consequences of parents’ intense involvement in what they call their children's “leisure biographies.”

kid sitting on a soccer ball

And parents will tell you: From making friends to rounding out college applications, leisure biographies are serious business. In fact, per the researchers, “a number of the children [studied] participated in more than one organized activity in a day and this, combined with siblings’ organized activities, meant that they often came to dominate family life.” One mom interviewed revealed her kids do 22 activities a week. Hold that thought, just gotta load the tennis racket and violin into the car. And btw, can anyone Venmo me the $4,255 it costs to buy 35 weeks of tennis lessons for a seven-year-old? Thank you much.

As for the impact of all of this expensive, scheduled “fun”? “There is evidence that parents’ reserves of time, money and energy are often considerably depleted and marriages can be put at ‘risk’ due to the demands of supporting their children's participation,” write the researchers. “It is also apparent that some children might have limited opportunities for free-play and to manage their own time, which are important for healthy development…and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. In light of this,” they conclude, “it is worth questioning whether any benefits children accrue through participation in organized activities could be negated because of these problems.” Also worth asking, according to the authors? “The extent to which organized activities can be regarded as ‘leisure’ if they are obligatory and potentially detrimental to children's well-being.”

kids riding a bike

Perhaps most unsettling of all is the account of one mom in the study, whose concern about her “cultivated” kids may sound all too familiar: 

“[When I was growing up,] I would spend most of my time just playing around with neighbors’ children and brothers and sisters, out in the streets or within your house, there wasn't any structured play, it was just free play, you choose what you wanted to do. But I think that's good in a way because I find that my children always need to be told what they can do next …  they keep coming to me and saying, ‘What shall I do next, what shall I do next?’ and I find it (laughs) difficult because they’ve got a room full of toys, they’ve got all kinds of gadgets around them, they’ve got friends who can come home any time, and still he does not know what to do with his time.”

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