5 ways kids spend time differently today than in the past

wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockToday’s kids have way less free time than their parents.
  • Today’s kids are busier than ever, their days packed with structured activities like school, sports, and tutoring.
  • Kids a century ago had increased free time, spent more time outside, and slept longer than the kids of today’s digital era.
  • Here are five ways modern kids spend their time differently.

Today’s children are busy. Between school, sports, music, gymnastics, tutoring, and dance, it seems like children have less unstructured free time than ever.

According to Dr. Robert Murray, pediatrician and vice chair of the nonprofit Action for Healthy Kids, unstructured time helps kids learn how to self-direct and how to build critical social and emotional skills that will help them interact with others and self-regulate as adults.

The snack food company GoGo SqueeZ, a partner of Action for Healthy Kids, recently conducted a survey of over 1,000 US adults with children under the age of 12. The study found that 85% of the parents believe scheduled activities like sports and clubs lead to greater success in life. Additionally, 72% of the respondents felt their kids had less free and unstructured time as compared to their own childhoods.

According to research, the kids of today are spending their time in ways that are significantly different than kids a single generation back – here’s how it could be affecting them.


1. Kids simply have less free time

By Monkey Business Images/ShutterstockSelf-directed playtime is on the decline for kids.

According to a study published in Pediatrics, free time is declining for many children. Time previously used for free play has been curbed to make room for structured activities like longer school days and extracurriculars, which could deprive children of the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional benefits play can provide.

Not only do kids have less free time, but they’re also spending less time playing outdoors. A study published in 2017 by Gallup found that children spend an average of 18.6 hours of their free time playing on screens per week compared to 10.6 hours spent playing outside per week.


2. Screen time has risen dramatically

suriyachan/ShutterstockKids are spending a lot of time using technology.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that kids spend more time staring a screen these days, given the ubiquity of computers, smartphones, tablets, and televisions.

However, there has been a dramatic uptick in hours spent staring at media. According to a BBC News, in the mid 1990s, children in the UK between the ages of five and 16 had an average of three hours of screen time each day. In 2015, kids consumed six and a half hours of screen time per day. on average.


3. Kids spend much less time outside

Katya Shut/ShutterstockLess time outdoors can result in less physical fitness and vitamin D deficiency.

A UK survey conducted by the National Trust found that modern children spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did, despite the fact that 96% of the parents surveyed felt it was important for kids to have a “connection to nature.”

There’s even a term for lacking that connection: nature-deficit disorder. Although it’s not a medical ailment, nature-deficit disorder describes the “growing gap between nature and children,” which can lead to less physical fitness and vitamin D deficiency, which can result in other health problems, according to a paper in Educational Leadership.


4. Kids are getting less sleep

Morrowind/ShutterstockThere’s less time for rest.

After hours of basketball practice, drum lessons, maths tutoring, and dance classes, there are only so many hours in the day for children to rest.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, kids aged six to 13 should get nine to 11 hours of sleep each night, and 14 to 17 year olds should get eight to 10.

However, according to a national survey published in 2015 by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, about 58% of American middle school students and more than 72% of high school students were not getting enough sleep on school nights.


5. They are doing a lot more homework

woodleywonderworks/Attribution Licence/FlickrChildren may be spending too many hours each night doing homework.

Homework can strengthen kids’ skills and help them learn, but too much could hurt more than help.

In fact, a research paper published in PISA in Focus found that any more than four hours of homework per week has a negligible impact on academic performance.

Though the amount of homework students are responsible for has generally stayed the same for decades, that’s not true of 6- to 8-year-olds. For them, the amount of weekly homework doubled between 1981 and 1997, according to research from the University of Michigan.

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