Kids Need More Playtime

Pediatricians say they see plenty of kids who are involved in lots of activities or kids who are involved in one activity that takes up all of their time.

And doctors say things like sports, clubs and music definitely benefit children, but so does free and unstructured playtime.

Between soccer or T-ball, music or dance lessons, even kids as young as three and four have less and less time to simply play with toys or with each other.

Terri Hartweck, with Carings Friends Daycare, says, "A lot of parents, they want to make sure their child is prepared for kindergarten. And when they're in kindergarten, they want to make sure they're prepared for first grade. And then, they're so busy preparing them that sometimes they don't quite get to be a kid as much as they should."

The American Academy of Pediatrics says unstructured play isn't just healthy, it's essential for helping kids "reach important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones."

A loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle can be a source of stress which isn't so easy to diagnose.

Pediatrician Dr. Dolly Schutte Marx says, "They can have stomachaches or sleep problems or headaches. We see some of that when kids are having just some non-specific physical complaints. It's really just a manifestation of stress or depression or anxiety."

For every hour of formal lessons, parents should try to schedule an hour of playtime.

Dr. Schutte Marx continues, "You don't have to force them to go outside and do something. They can do unstructured things in the house, too. Just have a toy that they like or they can read a book or just hang out with their parents. I think it's more just having some downtime."

The AAP's report says parents need to understand that kids don't need to excel in multiple areas to learn how to compete in the real world. Instead, the most valuable character traits that will prepare kids for success come from parental love, role modeling and guidance.

The Pediatricians' Group blames marketers and advertisers for convincing some parents that products and programs can help them create "super-children." They also blame federal education policies that have led to reduced recess time in many schools.

Plus, for older kids, there's increased competition for college admissions.

The pediatrician Shannon talked to says she sees a lot of stress in girls, especially at the middle school level. There's lots of pressure to be overachievers.