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Stop Forcing Summer Activities On Your Children

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With the school year coming to an end, many parents are bracing for the next two months of long, hot summer days where structure is lax and tempers are short. The summer holidays are here and while most of us have done our due diligence and managed to book some activities for our kids for the most part, there may be a few days, or a week here and there that we haven't accounted for our kids' time.

[Cue advanced parental anxiety here]

"Children need to be occupied, they need structure, they need predictability," the experts tell us. After all, "the Devil finds work for idle hands," so the old adage goes. In other words, heaven help you if you don't make sure to keep those sticky little hands busy between late June and Labour Day every year. Not doing so will surely be the reason why your little angel becomes a little devil because -- hey -- children need structure.

No they don't.

Now.

While this perspective may appear to be parental heresy of sorts, it's not. Hear me out.

Back in the day in the not too distant past, the thought of having a child's whole summer vacation planned down to the hour, was unheard of. As a child, riding my bike through the park, playing with my friends and finding things to do was part and parcel of the excitement that was synonymous with summer vacations.

And I wasn't alone. This was the norm.

"Never in the history of the world have kids been more over-stimulated, over-protected and over-parented."

Children would find ways to entertain themselves; on the other side of the coin, parents relied on this fact to comfort themselves during the weeks leading up to summer break. As a matter of fact, the popularity of what is a standard facet of family life today -- summer camps and structured programs for kids -- was not considered the norm, but rather the exception, at least with all of my friends and their parents.

Was there a socio-economic reason as to why this was the fact? No, as my middle-class friends and peer groups were "running the streets," riding their bikes and exploring the park as eagerly as I was. Day and overnight camps, while they existed, were not immediately considered a mandatory activity as they are today. "Kids will be kids," and that was the prevailing sentiment that allowed parents to leave their children to explore the world, away from the parents' protective eyes.

Fast-forward to today. Never in the history of the world have kids been more over-stimulated, over-protected and over-parented. Helicopter Parenting is at an all-time high due to the potential of what might happen. The Boogeyman who lives around the corner is always looking for new victims and we all know that just stepping outside of our household cocoon of safety is highly risky business for any person under the age of 18. Apparently.

Now, before you ask, yes -- I do have my kids in some camps this summer, but I also have some weeks that are free and unstructured. This decision is by design, because as much as I've somewhat bought into the prevailing philosophy that kids should have something to do (and the fact that being self-employed and trying to work with kids running around in the background is an exercise in futility), the rebel in me wants them to have absolutely nothing to do on more than one occasion.

Having no structured plans will allow them to use their imagination and discover the world in a whole new way, because isn't that what being a kid is all about? As they say, "As seen through the eyes of a child."

As we trundle our kids off to the myriad of camps, play groups and grandparents houses for much of the summer, let's consider lightening their load somewhat and giving them back some activity-free time where they can use their imaginations, explore their environments and hey -- just be kids.

As difficult as it may be, throw caution to the wind and give your children some unstructured time to explore the world and enjoy the summer without an itinerary. Childhood is short. Let them enjoy it while they can.

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