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Millennial Parents Value Kids' Free Play Less Than Previous Generations, Study Says

A new survey says children of millennials are getting less free play in the great outdoors than kids of previous generations.

Millennial Kids Play Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
We know that play benefits kids in countless ways, from allowing them to exercise their imaginations, to fostering their emotional and physical development.

But now new research from The International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) finds today's parents are putting less of an emphasis on their children's free play.

IPEMA looked at 1,000 U.S. parents in an effort to understand generational differences about attitudes on play. Here are some of the key findings from the survey:

  • Boomer parents agree that children who play benefit physically (93 percent), socially (87 percent), emotionally (85 percent), and cognitively (80 percent).
  • Millennial parents value these benefits the lowest of all generations: socially (75 percent), physically (74 percent), cognitively (68 percent), and emotionally (65 percent).
  • Millennial parents' kiddos play indoors nearly double the amount that boomer parents' kids do, on average; a total of 4.11 hours each day versus 2.47 hours.
  • Millennial parents are 73 percent more likely to schedule their kids' playtime, compared to boomers at 45 percent.

We talked to Tom Norquist, Marketing Committee chair of IPEMA, to understand the survey's findings. He told Parents.com: "Millennials' children are spending more time inside partially because the millennials themselves spent more time inside with technology and fear – which causes the helicopter parent syndrome. Culturally, the massive embrace of technology and use of cell phones is now an epidemic, and screen time competes with nature."

He added, "There is also a need for parents to feel responsible for kids' mobility upward through education and college entrance demands." Norquist further believes the fact that texting has replaced face-to-face conversation is a reason for more time spent indoors.

The fear of kids being in danger out in the world can also explain the rise in scheduled playtime. Norquist also told us, "Both working parents also conclude that boredom and unscheduled playtime is not productive. There's also a sense of competition between parents as to what kids are accomplishing versus parents thinking kids are just hanging out after school."

On a personal note, I believe it's extremely important for kids to have down time to just play. I try to avoid over-scheduling my kids and instead, let them pick just two extracurricular activities each. Other than those activities, they are home, playing, and yes, just hanging out. Sure, sometimes they get bored, but most of the time, they come up with a million things to do, from playing school with stuffed animals as students, to putting on mini-plays. If them using their imaginations means they won't get into the best schools, then I just assume those aren't the schools for them!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook and Instagram where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.