Lifestyle of children is one of the most important environmental factors that determine some of the traits that they will develop later in their lives. Whether a child’s lifestyle is healthy or not is the question that must be answered. Knowing the effective lifestyle for children as well as the ineffective one is helpful in creating the best environment that will shape their pro-social traits. Regarding this matter, many issues have risen and one of the most controversial and recent is the issue on whether structured activities are good or bad for children’s development. But, as we will later expound, structured daily activities for children cause more negative effects than positive.
While it is true that rigid schedules encompassing a child’s formal daily activities such as chores, sports, and academics are formulated in an aim to keep a child’s discipline and focus on his/her tasks, this kind of goal setting is still not as effective as most parents think. In a recent study conducted by Yuko Munakata, a psychology and neuroscience professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, it was shown that children who spend more time doing less-structured activities become more self-directed (Gray; Nauert). However, children who spend greater time doing highly structured activities become less likely to show use of executive function (Gray; Nauert).
Executive function, as explained by Dr. Caroline Martinez, a behavioral specialist and pediatrician at Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, is the psychological aspect that encompasses mental skills such as planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and regulation of thoughts and actions—skills that are not developed though highly structured lifestyle and rigidly scheduled activities (Gray). In addition to Munakata and Martinez’s researches, another research published in the academic journal Parenting: Science and Practice in 2013, found out that, preschoolers who are heavily directed by their mothers are less satisfied and less happy compared to preschoolers who are given ample free time for themselves (Gray). Another study that involved a cohort of 70 children aged 6 years old, determined whether structured lifestyle could affect the development of children’s brains (Gray). 6 years old children were specifically chosen for the study as children at that age are less likely to have highly structured activities (Gray), making the goal of the research easier to achieve. The research measured the self-directed or executive function of the children by asking them to name as many animals as they could in one minute (Gray). Results showed that, children who did well grouped their answers—a clear sign of good executive function (Gray). Those children who showed exemplary executive function were observed to have less structured lifestyle (Gray).
Another detrimental effect of highly structured lifestyle to children is the inevitable hurriedness associated with it. Parents who subject their children to strict schedules and structured activities, particularly with the purpose of establishing their children’s sense of responsibility and discipline, are naturally inclined to hurry their children to meet their goals at a given time. Such hurriedness induced by parents who implement highly structured lifestyle and strict schedules of activities among their children inevitably increases the stress experienced by children (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 6). Scientifically, stress is a natural response of any organism to any aversive or irritating stimulus (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 6). Consequently, highly structured activities are accompanied by high expectations from parents and such event is a natural stressor to children. As expounded in one research, such high expectations from parents result to children’s perfectionism in the future which is unavoidably accompanied by stress (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 6). Furthermore, stress results from the forceful utilization of energy reserves—a fact that is common among children who are pushed so hard to do things they do not wish to do (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 6).
Also, parents who instruct their children to strongly adhere to structured activities are most likely to believe that only activities focused on formal learning can widen and increase their children’s knowledge. But this thinking is false as formal learning is not the only source of learning for children (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 7). As explained in a research, formal settings for learning are not the only way through which a child can learn (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 7). Letting children participate in free range activities are also an exemplary source of learning (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 7). In fact, free range activities help children to develop pro-social behaviors and their sense of community participation (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 7). Furthermore, children who are given autonomy to spend their time on learning outside formal educational setting also develop their self-esteem and self-regulation (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 7). Children who also spend greater time in unstructured, free range activities tend to be participate well in sports and other group activities (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 7). Exemplary performance in school and other activities may be observed in children who do not feel pressured to do and follow structured lifestyles (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 7).
Aside from the abovementioned benefits that a child can get from participating in free range activities, the development of their sense of challenge is also shaped (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 8). Free range activities, since it gives children autonomy to choose their activities, provide excitement and present high challenge to children who in return become enthusiastically compelled to respond (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 8). Such feature of free range activities develop the sense of excitement and anticipation among children which also results to lesser stress levels among them (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 8). In one study, such finding regarding the relationship between enjoyment through participation in free range activities and stress was measured through the cortisol level (Hoffert, Kinney, and Dunn 8). Increased level of cortisol is the primary indicator of increased stress (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 8). As exemplified in the research addressed above, lower levels of cortisol can be observed in children who spend more time doing things that enhance their learning through enjoyment and involvement (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 8). On the other hand, children who are exposed to activities that they do not enjoy showed higher levels of cortisol (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 8). Therefore, addressing the physiological aspect of the matter, children who are given ample free time to enjoy and get involved in activities report lower levels of stress and consequently become more enthusiastic about learning while children who are forced to do and follow structured activities as they are instructed, experience greater levels of stress which, in return, results to poor learning. Structured activities can either be beyond a child’s capacity, making him or her pressured to comply, or it can be below his capacity, making him or her bored during the whole time he or she tries to complete the task, either way results to greater stress for children, whose social, psychological, and personal development may become impeded (Hofferth, Kinney, and Dunn 8).
Aside from the negative effects studied above from different sources that tackle the matter, negative effects on health are also a large issue that cannot be simply dismissed while attending to the issue. Various researches have investigated the connection between physical activity and cardiovascular diseases (Sakuragi et al. 614; Promoting Unstructured Free Play 1). As tackled in the examples given above, free range activities promote the involvement of children in team activities which naturally often require physical mobility. Such mobility among children is crucial in order to keep them healthy. As emphasized in a study conducted to investigate the likelihood of children to become affected by a cardiovascular disease, results showed that children who are not physically active become highly likely to develop cardiovascular diseases due to the stiffness of bloodstreams that may result from the lack of motion and physical exercise (Sakuragi et al. 614). Furthermore, lack of physical activity among children may result to obesity and overweight which may lead to chronic diseases and premature death (Promoting Unstructured Free Play 1). Relating this to the issue of structured schedule and lifestyle for children, this may be one of the possible negative effects since children who are forced to comply only with a rigid set of rules which may keep them from participating in free range activities that may keep them physically active and healthy, free from the dangers of chronic diseases.
Lifestyle of children plays a great role in their development. As exemplified in the studies above, structured lifestyle among children have negative effects that may hinder their personal growth and development and may even result to the development of diseases that may be harmful to children. Addressing this issue regarding structure and rigidness of children’s lifestyles inevitably involves the association of parents who exercise the greatest influence in a child’s life. While it is helpful that they keep an eye on their children’s activities in order to ensure their safety, giving them a little freedom to explore their environment is also a helpful way to let them learn. Involvement of parents in such free range activities also helps strengthen their bond with their children and may let their children learn more from them as parents (How parents influence their kids’ physical activity 1).
Gray, Barbara Bronson. “Over-scheduling kids may be detrimental to their development.” HealthDay. CBS News, 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
Hofferth, Sandra L., D.A. Kinney, and J.S. Dunn. The “Hurried” Child: Myth vs. Reality. University of Maryland. 25 Feb. 2008. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
“How parents influence their kids’ physical activity.” ParticipACTION. Research Gate, 2011. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
Nauert, Rick. “Weighing Effects of Lots of Structure vs. ‘Free Range’ Parenting.” Psych Central. Psych Central, 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
“Promoting Unstructured Free Play in Your Community: A Resource Manual.” Community Health and the Built Environment. Community Health and the Built Environment Projects, n. date. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
Sakuragi, Satoru et al. “Influence of Adiposity and Physical Inactivity on Arterial Stiffness in Healthy Children.” Hypertension 53 (April 2009): 611-616. American Heart Association. Web 08 Dec. 2014.