Prescribing More Activities for Kids Does More Harm than Good

Brad Matthews education category

You’ve seen the headlines.

“Kids need more outdoor time”.

“Kids need more dancing and music in schools”.

“All kids should read for an hour a day”.

Except they don’t. Certainly not all kids.

Not all kids need more outdoor time, not all kids need to sing and dance on a weekly basis, not all kids need to read more.

For some kids to feel safe, thrive, grow and develop healthy mindsets, maybe they need more time indoors. Maybe they need to never dance again, maybe they need to read less, more, or hardly at all. But the only person who will know that is the individual child. No adult, scientist, or group of experts can prescribe what’s best for each and every child.

What kids really need is to spend more time doing what they themselves enjoy and want to do. More time being themselves and being in control.

If there’s any “one thing” they truly need from adults, it’s more freedom.

It does kids no good to be doing more X or less Y, if it’s all still prescribed and controlled by adults. If kids aren’t empowered to make choices, but instead are merely redirected from particular activities to others, then fundamentally nothing has changed.

They haven’t grown, challenged themselves, taken on additional responsibilities, directed their own learning. Sure it might be better to spend more time outdoors playing than in class for the vast majority of students. Sure kids might benefit from transferable skills and knowledge from one subject to another. But that’s so minute and marginal compared to the gains that they could make if they were free to pursue what they’re interested in and hone that, rather than being forced along the dreary conveyor belt of adult-led task after adult-led task.

That’s terrible if you’re trying to raise independent, capable, kids with self-knowledge and the tools (and mindsets) they need to succeed.

“But but what if they’re mostly just interested in video games?”

So what?

They’re new and different to what you grew up. That doesn’t automatically make them bad, unnatural, harmful or detrimental.

Take some time to understand.

Find out what it is in the video games that they love and help replicate that feeling of accomplishment/challenge/mastery/skill development/progression in other things. That might sounds intense but all it takes is stepping back, asking a few questions, and thinking long, hard and deeply. And of course remembering not to make it about rewards and punishments wherever possible.
Though setting up and achieving goals that are meaningful to the child, and perhaps more importantly—mutually agreed upon—so that they can acquire something or do something (where that something is a logical consequence whereby the task is a prerequisite, not simply being given a piece of candy), that is very different to bribery and trickery.

Take a step back. Watch. Observe. Learn.

The last thing we need is ‘enlightened’ adults forcing or coercing kids to do stuff. Even if the kids had previously expressed an interest in it.

They don’t need to be made to do stuff. They don’t need to be controlled by your insecurities. They’re not your puppet.

Leave them be.

Help, facilitate, guide, even poke them gently from time to time.

Just don’t force.

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