Free-Range Kids

Parents, Let the Coronavirus Quarantine Be an Excuse To Give Kids Some Free Time

You don't need to plan every minute of their day.


Not to be a Free-Range Pollyanna, but one possible (small) upside to this world-wide pandemic could be that kids become more independent—and less anxious—if we let them use their time differently.

Bear with me, and with research psychologist and fellow Let Grow co-founder, Dr. Peter Gray.

Gray points out that over the past generation or so, kids have been losing their "internal locus of control," the feeling of being in control of their lives. Obviously, when you don't feel in control of your life, you are more likely to feel depressed and anxious. And in fact, childhood anxiety levels have been shooting up long before the virus hit. Almost one in three adolescents has an anxiety disorder.

That may have to do with the fact that childhood free time has been evaporating, thanks to the belief that kids left unsupervised are in danger of being hurt physically, emotionally, or educationally. This is true across the economic spectrum and, increasingly, across the world: The idea that kids need intensive adult supervision and structure to succeed, from their first baby movement classes (as if they wouldn't otherwise wiggle) to the extracurricular arms race.

But with the world in the throes of a deadly virus, and school and after-school activities canceled everywhere, there's nothing official for kids to do. It's like they have been thrown back into a 1953 summer (except with Tik-Tok). This is an opportunity.

Yes, yes, obviously now their parents are closer than ever. Nonetheless, this period we're in is very different from the typical school/lacrosse/tutoring/homework/reading log days. Now the parents are busy, the day is long, and lots of time is up for grabs.

I'm hearing about kids making up games, digging holes (very popular), drawing, making videos, talking to their friends online, playing outside, playing video games (obviously), sleeping more (that's great!), cooking, and even organizing their rooms. That's the power of boredom mixed with free time. Instead of being marionettes, the kids are figuring out who they are and what they like to do.

At Let Grow, we had been promoting almost this same idea (minus the deadly pandemic). One of our main school initiatives is the Let Grow Project. (Here's a video.) Basically, the project is a take-home assignment where kids are told, "Go home and do something that you feel ready to do but haven't done yet—and do it on your own." The idea was to get parents to back off and let their kids go ride their bikes, walk to school, babysit, or almost anything else. The point is to remind both generations that kids are capable.

The amazing thing was that the more kids started to do things on their own—even something as simple as making lunch—the more their anxiety went down. This video of 7th graders who completed the project is pretty remarkable. The kids all admit to having been exceedingly anxious: One girl said that before she started doing things on her own, she had grown so nervous that she could barely even talk to anyone. But being forced into a little independence literally gave her back her voice. Another kid was too scared to walk to school until the project. After that, at about age 13, walking to school became normal.

Parents gain confidence too. There's nothing like seeing your kid do something you thought you had to do for them.

NEXT: Hey FDA! There's a Massive Blood Shortage. Let Gay and Bisexual Men Give Blood Already.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. For a second there, I thought Lenore would say let the kids play Frogger. Live-action role playing, with frog costumes and real cars.

    1. But really, there wouldn’t be enough traffic to make the game really exciting.

      1. dragging the logs up and down the street would be a bitch

  2. “Go home and do something that you feel ready to do but haven’t done yet—and do it on your own.”

    When I was a kid this would have meant nothing to me. There was nothing I was itching to do that didn’t involve goofing off and doing “nothing.” Maybe I would read some sci-fi book or something else that would approximate learning/doing. I absolutely hated school assignments where I had to come up with a topic or research idea. I think most kids are like this. I think most kids before a certain age just don’t have that many ideas on their own (for things like this) and those who appear to usually have a lot of “encouragement” from their parents. Maybe things are different now, I don’t know.

  3. It’s like they have been thrown back into a 1953 summer (except with Tik-Tok).

    Except without going outside and playing with other kids?

  4. Obviously, when you don’t feel in control of your life, you are more likely to feel depressed and anxious.

    Of course, most kids are eventually enlightened about this silly control thing.

  5. It’s the perfect time to impress upon them how terribly dangerous the world is and download all your other insecurities upon them.

    1. Pfaugh – you can do that anytime, anyone who needs a plague as an excuse is just not doing it right.

  6. THANK goodness Lenore is still willing and able to sweep aside the delusional fog once in awhile.

  7. Air is Natural,
    which is why if I breathe Air, I might have Natural Rights with which most Lefters beat down with The back end of a Hammer to instill everything wrong in they;

    They truly do.

    The Gift of Free Will is a Gift which Defines The True Distiction between Airian and Jew because without The Gift of FreeWill, You wouldn’t be able to exercise Any of Those Gibberish Little Rights The State claims to give you.

    I have Every Right I will ever Have for All-of-Time, Right Now, because my Liberty are Tied to The Number of Commodities in The Market Place where Market Forces Decide Everything for The True Correction of The Invisible Hand of Posterity to True Prosperity.

    Care To Say that Again, Parrot for The State, Dana Perino.

    1. What does this mean?

  8. I think Gen Xers are beyond convincing at this point, but I know that when I become a parent later in life, I’m going to let my kids be kids and not overbook them.

    It’s sad seeing our culture evaporate, but I remember the first time where this regressive attitude towards children became clear to me. In my Japanese class, we were learning about their education system. Most foreigners find their cram school system to be abhorrent (I’m not a fan of it, but it’s not all tedious work either), but when we discussed our opinions with our teacher, she said that any kid that isn’t busy is up to no good. I found that really disheartening to hear, because while kids are often up to no good, that’s the point of being a kid. You can learn from anything in life, but not allowing kids to learn from their own shortsighted thinking and resulting failures produces a very unbalanced young adult and most definitely plays a part in the delayed maturity of so many people in my generation.

  9. Great to get parenting advice from random people who write articles for online sites. Yah, great idea.

  10. I try to give my son time to play, to activate his creativity with painting, then I try to get him to cook something with me, watch a moviespilot and study or we can read an easy book.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.