Independence in childhood is a good thing. It’s just the thing that will, over time, ensure our kids don’t live in our basements for their entire adult lives. All joking aside, I write a summary of headlines in the world of education several times a year for a professional association to which I belong.

And I recently discovered something that any intentional parent would want to know.

Several articles mentioned large-scale studies related to children and technology. Other articles linked teen screen time to symptoms of ADHD (such as this one).
On a seemingly different topic, other studies found that the lack of autonomy, or independence, that we are giving our children is harming them. One study found that “play-deprived” children tend to experience more anxiety (and by play, the authors mean ​unsupervised​ play).

Independence or Screens?

Another stated that a “lost secret” of getting kids to pay attention was for them to have more autonomy.
​I realized that for many of our kids, screen time itself ​is​ the only thing that they do completely independently every day. ​
Outside of screen time, they’re in school or homeschooling, and many of us are shuttling them from here to there for activities or participating in supervised play dates. For some of you, they are also participating in arts, crafts, or projects with you.
Is this good for our kids?​
We are increasing our kids’ addiction to technology if it is the only corner of their lives in which they have opportunities for independence.

Independence in Childhood Play

Here’s what child development researchers are consistently telling us:
Children need play.
Kids need free time.
It doesn’t hurt them to get bored.
They need opportunities for planning. (Don’t think of the planning you do; rather, think of planning a birthday party for all 47 of their stuffed animals.)
If most of their days are taken by their schooling, activities, and supervised play dates, I’m wondering: where does that happen?
One of the best things that happened to my children – life-changing, I believe – is that we moved further from the big city when they were very little. Our old house had about a quarter acre on a fairly busy neighborhood street and had a tiny backyard. We now live on a little land, and I can say, “GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!” without a second thought.
I realize that everyone can’t give their kids almost complete freedom outside. But I wonder – is there a way that you could give them more freedom to explore, be outside, and try to figure out how things work?

Creativity and Independent Skills

I offer this as food for thought:

●  Are your kids at a healthy level of screen time for their age?
●  Where do your kids have autonomy in their days? Are there places you could give them a little more independence?
●  Do your kids have plenty of time that is free for creative, kid-initiated play?
We certainly don’t have this all figured out.
Even if we thought we did, our kids are moving targets and what was working last month won’t work next month, right?
No matter how we answer these questions, the good news is this: As intentional parents, we can always make a change for the better. It doesn’t mean that our kids will naturally pick up their clothes off the floor after a shower (independence 101, right?), but as we give them more opportunities for autonomy, they will automatically engage their critical thinking skills. This exploration of independence helps them develop their creative muscles, learn how to initiate conversation, and lead others. These are all fundamental skills that help our children as they grow into young adulthood. Let’s start laying the groundwork now.