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Everybody needs some “me” time

All work and no play makes Gibson a very cranky boy. It makes for a cranky family, too.

I should have known something was up when I walked into my son’s bedroom at 6:30 a.m. and found him not in his bed, but in his closet playing with his toys.

Before I could say anything, he looked at me sternly and said, “Go away, dad, I am playing.”

I guess it was Gibson’s way of saying, “I need some ‘me’ time, dad.”

Since I know a little something about the necessity of downtime as an adult, I guess I should have figured my son needed it to.

You might think that my 4-year-old son’s life is filled with nothing but play time.

Yet, his daily schedule is crammed with things to do. From the moment he wakes up, Gibson is on the go.

Mornings are all about getting ready for school. There is no time to waste when you have to eat breakfast, make up the bed, get dressed, pack lunch and get in the car to drive across town before 7:30 a.m.

Then there is school, filled with lessons, learning centers, lunch, nap and recess among other things. After school, Gibson spends a little down time with his friends in his school’s after care program. But it isn’t long before mom drives up to pick him up.

By that time, everything is focused on getting food on the table, getting Gibson in the bath tub and into bed before 8 p.m. Add a trip to the grocery store, a visit with grandmother or Wednesday night church and there is barely enough time for a quick bike ride around the block and some football in the backyard.

Since the 1970s, children have lost an average of nine hours of free playtime a week. According to a University of Michigan study, playtime is under attack, and this reduction is adversely affecting children’s health and well being.

This is especially important when children are increasingly going from school to sports practices to extracurricular activies until they finally hit the bed late at night, the study said.

“The sad reality is, play is being taken away from kids,” Danielle Marshall, who works for a non-profit that builds playgrounds nationwide said. Marshall spoke with USA Today about the subject and said there is a play deficit in the United States that is having a detrimental impact on children.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Gibson has been unusually cranky.

My wife and I should have noticed the signs when we found a pile of matchbox cars and planes in his bed sheets, or when he pulled off the light on his bike to shine under the bedcovers at night to extend his playtime.

Despite our best efforts to keep him busy with swimming lessons and other activities, what we were not giving Gibson was the time to rest, to dream, to use his imagination.

It is becoming more and more common, the study said kids even as young as 3 and 4 years old are not getting the unstructured time to explore the world on their own.

As Gibson grows older, the pressures to do more will only grow. The temptation to do it all will be great.

I know parents who lament that their preteen and teenage children do not get home some nights until 10 p.m. before doing homework and getting ready for bed.

Just thinking about it makes me want a little “me” time of my own. From the looks of it, I might not get some downtime in about 14 years or so.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.