Parents urged to chill out

The Age (Australia) December 3 2007
Swimming lessons or music classes? Gymnastics or maths coaching? In this age of hyper- parenting, the “enrichment opportunities” for children are endless as adults fill their pre- schoolers’ days with activities to give them a leg-up in life. But advocates of old- fashioned, unstructured play say overscheduling children’s activities limits their time to bond with parents and puts too much focus on outcomes. Now, Australian researchers have entered the debate, using a longitudinal study to explore the links between children’s activities and their mental health and language skills. And the good news is that Australian parents don’t need to worry too much. Pre-schoolers in Australia aren’t being “scheduled” at high levels, and the difference in vocabulary between children who undertake organised activities and those who don’t is small. But Michael Bittman, from the University of New England’s School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, did find that long hours watching television and in child care had a detrimental effect on children’s mental health.