Too Much Structure Makes Jack a Poor Strategist

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Over-scheduled kids

We’ve touched on this topic before but a new study confirms what we’ve already come to understand about child development: over-scheduled kids are more dependent on mom and dad and demonstrate poorer executive function (the ability to set a goal and independently work toward accomplishing it).

Conducted by Jane Barker at the University of Colorado, the study showed rather conclusively that kids with plenty of unstructured free time were better able to create problem-solving strategies and achieve those results.

Conversely, kids whose days were largely structured and managed by mom and dad, struggled to work independently and regularly turned to adults for help.

One facet of the study took 67 six-year-old kids and assigned them a category such as foods. The kids were asked to name as many foods as they could in one minute. The kids with stronger executive functions tended to sub-categorize the food by specific meals or food types.

Barker and her team found that kids with more free time were stronger at the test than their over-scheduled counterparts.

Other studies have shown that kids with helicopter parents tend to suffer from more maladies, including anxiety and actual illnesses. Similarly, children in some European school systems – particularly in Nordic regions – are better students, more confident, and less anxious, thanks to loads of free time.

The bottom line: parents who want to see their kids grow up to be strategic problem solvers and leaders need to reduce some of the structure in their kids’ lives so that they can learn to think and do for themselves.

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