We’re all busy. We all have too little time to do everything. We don’t even floss as often as we should. This is given. On the other hand, are we honest about what we’re doing with our time? Recent stats show that on a daily basis, the average person in the US will spend almost three hours watching TV and 2 hours on social media.
Compare this to 31 minutes of taking care of family members or less than 20 minutes of exercise. The truth is, we choose to be distracted by means that were designed, well, to distract us.
Don’t get me wrong, nobody’s perfect – I’m watching way too much TV and not exercising as nearly as much as I should. But seriously – taking care of family members for 31 minutes?!
The logical thing would be to assume that as this figure is average, people who are parents spend more time on caring for family members. This is kind of a right assumption, because when you look at the stats for parents, it looks a little bit better.
When kids younger than 18 are in the house, the average adult spends one hour and 22 minutes taking care of them.
But here too, there are nuances we need to observe – under the age of six, parents will spend 47 minutes taking care of the child’s physical needs and an equal time taking care of their mental and emotional needs (education, reading, talking, playing and hobbies.) After the age of six, parents spend on average 9 minutes taking care of the child’s physical needs and only 17 minutes taking care of their mental and emotional needs.
This means that after the age of six most parents spend nearly 66% less time on their child's well-being! The biggest decline is in the Play / Hobbies related activities – from 35 minutes before the age of six to 4 minutes for ages six and up, a 90% (!) drop.
This latter trend seems to correspond with our society’s obsession with academic success – once kids go to school we tend to limit their role into getting good grades. They don’t need to be played with, they don’t need us reading or talking to them. By extension, we presume that it is up to their teachers to take care of their mental and social needs.
As Barbara Frankowski, member of the American Association of Pediatrics Council on School Health said,
“Some of the attitude recently is that it’s up to the schools and teachers to figure it all out, to make sure children are learning and healthy and safe. There’s only so much teachers can do. Parents have to fill in with good support at home.”
There’s now mounting evidence that children need their parents support to reach academic success. For example, parents reading next and with their child influence their child’s future in many ways. But limiting children’s role in life to getting good grades is counterproductive.
Play is learning, but more importantly – learning is play.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children literally wrote it for us,
“Rather than detracting from academic learning, play appears to support the abilities that underlie such learning and thus to promote school success.”
As adults, we tend to separate between ‘life’ and ‘play.’ We think that getting good grades is a part of ‘life’ while running in the school yard is part of ‘play.’ But for children, this distinction is not so clear. They run to develop their physical skills, and when they sit in class, they develop their language or math skills. But their minds are evolving in both cases.
Child Development experts Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp wrote this eloquently,
“A wonderful cycle of learning is driven by the pleasure of play. A child is curious; she explores and discovers. The discovery brings pleasure; the pleasure leads to repetition and practice. Practice brings mastery; mastery brings the pleasure and confidence to once again act on curiosity. All learning – emotional, social, motor, and cognitive – is accelerated and facilitated by repetition fueled by the pleasure of play.”
None of this means that a child must be played with all the time. Free play is still very important, and some experts think it is much more important than structured activities. But a small amount of play, on a regular basis, can do wonders to your child’s self-esteem and to their social, verbal and cognitive skills.
So how much playtime do they need? You decide. Now, if only there were 5 hours to spare every day…