A few weeks ago, I read an interview by Eva Millet, who coined the term 'hyper-parenting', and I would like to talk to you about it. If I’m honest, I am pleased that people are increasingly talking about the fact that some parents overprotect their children. Reading articles, posts and books that address this issue, or listening to people talk about it, makes us think about what sort of parents they are.
It's not the first time I have talked about this and, knowing me, it probably won't be the last. I can say that I agree with 90% of what Eva Millet says in her interview, especially when she says that parents shouldn't solve their children's problems. I also agree that perhaps they help them too much with their school duties, that they interfere too much and that on occasions they even hamper the teacher's efforts. But, I would like to focus on one aspect of Millet's interview — free time.
What is free time? I am a great advocate of children having free time and I believe they should have more free time than they currently do. However, we need to differentiate between high quality free time, which can and does have incredible benefits for children, and low quality free time, which can have an adverse effect.
When my children were little, free time consisted of:
- reading stories to them and them reading stories by themselves;
- playing board games;
- going on family outings whenever we could;
- doing arts and crafts;
- going to the park;
- playing with a ball;
- and even, being bored!
But, there was also the other kind of free time, the low quality free time, which consisted of watching television or videos. Fortunately, in those days there were no laptop computers or mobile phones.
Nowadays, we are fixated on devices, and it's easy to see how some children waste their free time staring blankly at a screen. I have even seen a boy give out party invitations, asking his friends to go and play the latest Xbox game at his house. Horrifying!
I realise that the alternative to screens means spending time with children, being patient and finding the energy to tempt them to embrace other forms of play and entertainment. Bearing in mind that now it is difficult for children to play by themselves in the street, I think our goal is to show them that there is more to life than smartphones.
In my case, when my children were little, I worked until after 9 p.m., which left me no alternative other than to fill their schedules with extracurricular activities, some of which were entertainment-based and others, academic. I let them explore activities that might later become hobbies, such as sport, music and art. And other activities, like learning languages and doing maths. It's not easy. It requires a lot of effort by parents, but looking back I don’t regret what I did. I was clear that I wanted to prevent them from spending the afternoon watching television, and I made sure it didn't happen.
Now, I have two teenage children who spend their time doing extracurricular activities that they themselves have chosen, that constitute a large part of their leisure time. Of course, they continue studying English because, if playing football is negotiable in our household, studying English is not!
You might find 'My children aren't mine' interesting.