The Importance of Free Time for Kids

Tween girl taking a selfie with a kitten on her shoulder

Betsie Van Der Meer / Getty Images

Today's children are busy, and when a child enters middle school schedules can get even busier. In fact, your child's schedule, and yours may at times be harried and overwhelming. But free time is important for children, especially as they enter puberty and adolescence. While too much free time can become problematic, it's important for parents to make sure that their tween has a balance between scheduled activities and time for themself.

If your tween can't seem to keep up with their responsibilities, it might be because they have too many. Below are a few considerations when evaluating your child's free time. 

Prioritizing Free Time

Parents often have the best of intentions, but many parents are guilty of overscheduling their children, programming their schedules with extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and other demands. The reasons behind the trend in overscheduling children are numerous. Some parents simply want to give the child opportunities that they never had. Others hope to make their children more competitive and better prepared for a successful high school experience, and beyond.

While it is important for a child to pursue interests, hobbies or passions, it's also important for children to learn how to enjoy downtime.

Studies show that children who are overscheduled often feel overwhelmed and pressured, and that can lead to a number of problems including behavioral issues and emotional challenges. In other words, overscheduled children can be stressed out.

Why It's So Important

Resist the urge to sign your child up for every activity that's available. Instead, help your child prioritize their interests. By doing so you're teaching your tween the skill of decision-making and that downtime should also be a priority to consider.

Tweens Need Time to Think

Middle school can be stressful. Just consider all the challenges and obstacles a middle school student might face: bullies; increase in homework responsibilities; pressure to excel and to be competitive; friendship issues; dating; puberty; and more. All of those challenges require a little time on your child's part to think it through and find ways to manage it.

Allowing your child the free time to think will help your tween put it all into perspective and move on. And allowing your child the time to think also give you an opportunity to talk with one another and work through issues together. If you're rushing from one responsibility to another, conversations can be short and condensed. Allow your child the time to open up to you, or another family member.

Tweens Need to Relax

Adults understand the need to relax after a stressful week of work. Tweens are no different. If you've had a very busy week, you probably just want to go home and watch a little television. Your child might feel the same way. Free time allows your child to relax and do nothing, or to do something they've looked forward to all week.

Tweens Need to Daydream

Daydreaming is something children are often criticized for, but children should allow themselves to daydream—just not in class. Daydreaming allows children to consider possible futures for themselves, and to ponder all the possibilities that are in front of them. But you can't daydream if you don't have the leisure time to do so.

While pretend play is important for toddlers and preschoolers, daydreaming is important to tweens and teens. Allow your child the time to think about their future, and you might be surprised at the results.

Free Time Makes People Happy

Studies show that people are generally happier on the weekends. Why? On the weekends, people get to choose their own activities, spend time with the people they like and separate themselves from their weekday responsibilities. Makes sense, doesn't it?

10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jennifer O'Donnell
Jennifer O'Donnell holds a BA in English and has training in specific areas regarding tweens, covering parenting for over 8 years.