Children with More Free Time are More Likely to be Described by Parents as Happy and Imaginative

Americans see both undirected play and "keeping children busy" as important

Jul 22, 2014, 05:00 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, July 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- What's the ideal mix of scheduled and free time for a developing mind? Is there one? And what sort of mix today's children experiencing? Well, with parents of K-12 students reporting their children spend an average of 38.4 hours per week on scheduled activities during the school year (including school time, extra-curricular school activities and other scheduled commitments), while maintaining an average of 19.1 hours of free time, this finds America's school-aged children with a roughly 2:1 ratio of scheduled to free/leisure time.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,241 adults (of whom 457 have school-aged children) surveyed online between June 11 and 17, 2014. (To see the full results including data tables, click here)

Of course, every average has its outliers. Looking at hours per week spent on "other" school activities outside of normal school hours, the average weekly commitment is 8.1 hours. However, parents of one in ten elementary students (10%) and those of nearly two in ten secondary students (17%) say their child spends no time on such commitments in a typical week. On the other end of the spectrum, similar percentages (12% and 18%, respectively) report their children spend 15 or more hours on such pursuits.

As for other scheduled activities, parents report their school-aged kids spend an average of 4.2 hours on activities such as lessons, tutoring, and non-school sports. Looking again to the extreme highs and lows, a fourth of elementary parents (25%) and nearly four in ten secondary parents (37%) say their kids spend no time on such endeavors in an average week, while over one in ten report their children spend 10 or more hours on such activities (12% elementary, 15% secondary).

As for free time, there is quite a variety of experiences evident in American schoolchildren's lives. 19.1 hours is the average amount of weekly free/leisure time parents report, but four in ten elementary parents (40%) and over half of secondary parents (53%) report their children have 20 or more hours of free time per week.  Meanwhile, a third of elementary parents (33%) and a fourth of secondary parents (26%) say their child has less than 10 hours of weekly leisure time. 

The kids are all right                            
We hear a lot in the news these days about the issues facing children growing up today, but, overall, strong majorities of parents believe their child is happy (94%) and that their child is very imaginative (85%).

  • In one finding of interest – those parents whose children have more free time in a typical week are more likely to report both that those children are happy (82% among those whose children have under 10 hours of free time, 100% 10-19 hours, 98% 20+ hours) and very imaginative (74%, 90% and 89%, respectively).

Nine in ten parents also think it is important that their child be exposed to a broad variety of experiences (91%), while nearly as many believe their child has enough free time to do things they want to do (88%).

While minorities report struggles with their children's scheduling and free time, they are nonetheless notable percentages of American K-12 parents. Specifically, one-fourth feel pressured to put their child in activities that other children are doing (25%) and over two in ten worry that their child is over-programmed, without enough free time (23%), and feel their child's schedule is difficult for their household to balance (22%).

  • Perhaps not surprisingly, parents whose children have 15 or more hours per week of combined extracurricular and other "scheduled" time are much more likely than those whose children have under 15 hours to report feeling pressured to put their child in activities that other children are doing (21% <15 hours, 36% 15+ hours). They are then also more likely to worry their child is "over-programmed" (18% and 35%, respectively).

Balancing act                           
Looking at related issues among the general population, nearly nine in ten Americans (87%) believe undirected play is important to a child's development, while three-fourths believe it is important that children be kept busy (75%).

Over three-fourths of U.S. adults (77%) believe that parents today tend to "over-program" their children's time; this opinion is especially strong among Baby Boomers and Matures (81% and 84%, respectively, as compared to 69% of Millennials and 76% of Gen Xers). Moreover, six in ten (60%) believe children have less free time today than when they were in school.

One factor in this perceived over-scheduling could be a desire to keep up with the Joneses, as eight in ten Americans (79%) believe parents today often schedule activities for their children just because all the other parents are doing the same thing.

However, where some see a crowded calendar, others see the opportunity for new experiences, and nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) wish they had the opportunity to have as many different experiences as children do today. This sentiment is significantly stronger among those with school-aged children (73%) than among those without (62%).

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 11 and 16, 2014 among 2,241 adults (aged 18 and over), of whom 457 have school-aged children. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #70, July 22, 2014

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Manager, Harris Poll Content

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

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SOURCE The Harris Poll