Is Less Really More?

Posted on September 26, 2012

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There’s a speaker coming to my hometown of Ottawa this weekend who believes that the behavioural issues among children today are often the product of a society where kids are bombarded with too much stuff and too much information. Kim John Payne a family counsellor, author and proponent of Simplicity Parenting, believes children are getting too much, too fast, too soon and that many childhood behavioural “disorders” would disappear if families slowed down and de-cluttered their lives. This de-cluttering includes of everything from eliminating TV and computer screen time to drastically reducing the number of toys and store-bought games.

Similarly, many minimalists agree that when you limit the number of toys your child has, they become more creative, develop longer attention spans, develop a love for reading, writing and art and become more resourceful and less selfish.  Part of what Payne advocates is limiting extra-curricular lessons and recorded music. He states that too many scheduled activities may limit a child’s ability to motivate and direct themselves. He believes that childhood has become so much about how to become an adult, when it should be about doing nothing. Boredom, he says, is a gift.

While I do agree that many children are barraged with too much too soon, it can actually be disadvantageous to limit a child’s toys, activities, screen time and tech time completely. I think that even when a child is allowed to discover their natural talents through self-exploration of art and music, they do require some guidance – often more than a parent can give. Art and music lessons can give a child the opportunity to explore this creativity

Payne also advocates minimizing the amount of information a child is given, from ESPN to dinner conversation and believes that this can help alleviate attention difficulties. While I think that there are things that are inappropriate and unimportant for kids to know, limiting the amount of information they get about the world around them – by limiting dinner conversations and limiting tech time, will put them at a distinct disadvantage when they get older. How can we expect our children to compete in a high-tech world without any high-tech instruction? In reality, the digital world can provide our kids with incredible opportunities. Social media, for example, offers children the prospects for increased individual and collaborative creativity, social connections, community involvement, exposure to different cultures, new learning experiences, and the development of essential technological skills.

While I do think that kids are over-programmed, and I’m all for limiting screen time and encouraging imagination, outdoor play and creativity, there does need to be a balance between too much and too little.  And while I agree that a little boredom is a gift that will help propel our children to use their own resourcefulness to create activities and entertainment for themselves, some guidance and structure through lessons will help prepare them for the real world later on.

Presenting Simplicity Parenting as a panacea for all the “behaviour problems” that exist today is also a bit patronizing, in my opinion. While I do believe that ADHD is very over-diagnosed, I do think it actually exists as a valid DSM diagnosis (as many a dedicated, involved parent will tell you). I also think that much of the simple behaviour and attention difficulties that are exhibited by many kids can be alleviated by more focused, structured and attentive parenting.

So I guess it comes down to finding your own balance as a parent and not presenting one type of parenting model as a cure-all for all the “behaviour problems” that exist today.

What’s your balance when it comes to limiting screen time, activities and toys? I’m very curious to know.

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