If there is one thing about which most experts agree, it is that most of us are dealing with far more stress than we’re actually designed to manage. The modern world’s complexity and seemingly endless demands on our time are so great that even the most organized adults can struggle to keep pace and maintain balance in their lives. Naturally, adolescents can face even greater difficulties coping with the high level of stress that permeates their lives. Part of the problem is that they lack the free time they need to properly unwind from the challenges of each day.
Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. By some estimates, children’s lives have been so filled with school and other structured activities that the amount of actual free time they have available to them has been reduced by roughly eight hours over the last twenty years. Yes, part of that is due to the proliferation of technologies that have made passive leisure more prevalent. However, a large portion of the blame must be attributed to society as a whole. Too many of us have forgotten just how important free time is for the maintenance of a sound mind and healthy body.
Free time is essential for everyone, as it represents an opportunity for creativity, connecting on a more personal level, and self-reflection. None of those things are promoted by filling a person’s day with one structured task after another. Instead, that path leads to long-term problems that can dramatically impact psychological wellbeing and overall health.
- For adolescents, a lack of free time can result in increased stress, as the child has no natural outlet for escaping the demands of life.
- So much time is spent on meeting obligations that he or she has no time for the type of creative thought that can aid in personal development.
- Adolescents whose schedules are overly structured often have less time for family interaction, which is an essential part of healthy social development and psychological security.
- The added stress and lack of relaxation time can result in less sleep, which can in turn increase stress levels.
- Adolescents with little free time often experience the type of social isolation that can lead to behavioral and developmental problems over time.
Most experts recognize this problem, and yet it persists. Teachers continue to assign a large volume of homework that often erases any free time that adolescents might otherwise have. Parents continue to structure their children’s lives in ways that leave them without the downtime they need to dream big dreams, experiment with different identities, and build lasting interpersonal relationships. From schoolwork and sports to home chores and more, we’ve left our children chasing the time they need for themselves.
In our zeal to ensure that the next generation is prepared to compete with the best that the world has to offer, we’re preventing our children from developing in the very areas they’ll most need for success: creativity, emotional security, interpersonal skills, and a sense of their own identity. Jennifer Hope, Ph.D., can help adults reevaluate their approach to free time, and recognize that we, and our teenagers, need more of it in our own lives.