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

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – July 22, 2014 – 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.

    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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    TABLE 1a

    MEAN HOURS PER WEEK CHILD PARTICIPATES IN ACTIVITIES

    Summary of Mean Hours Per Week

    During an average week during the school year, about how many hours would you say your child in [GRADE]É

    Base: Adult with Children In Grades K-12

    Total

    Grade of Child Asked About

    Elementary/K-5

    Secondary/6-12

    Éspends in school, including getting to and from school

    26.1

    24.7

    27.2

    Éspends in other school related activities, including before- and after-school care, school clubs & sports, doing homework, etc.

    8.1

    7.4

    8.8

    Éspends in other scheduled activities, including lessons, tutoring, non-school sports teams, etc.

    4.2

    4.1

    4.3

    Éhas of free/leisure time, including taking part in hobbies, playing, watching TV, relaxing, spending time with family or friends and otherwise doing things that they want to do that are not related to school and other scheduled activities

    19.1

    17.8

    20.2

    Other school time + Other scheduled time (NET)

    12.3

    11.4

    13.0

    All School time + Other scheduled time (NET)

    38.4

    36.2

    40.3

     

    TABLE 1b

    HOURS PER WEEK CHILD SPENDS IN SCHOOL

    Thinking of your child in [GRADE], about how many hours in an average week (during the school year) would you say they spend in school, including getting to and from school?

    Base: Adult with Children In Grades K-12

    Total

    Grade of Child Asked About

    Elementary/K-5

    Secondary/6-12

    %

    %

    %

    20 hours or less

    40

    43

    37

    21-30 hours

    8

    8

    7

    31-40 hours

    42

    43

    42

    More than 40 hours

    10

    6

    13

    Mean

    26.1

    24.7

    27.2

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 1c

    HOURS PER WEEK CHILD PARTICIPATES IN OTHER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES

    About how many hours in an average week (during the school year) would you say they spend in other school related activities, including before- and after-school child care, school clubs, school sport teams, doing homework, etc.?

    Base: Adult with Children In Grades K-12

    Total

    Grade of Child Asked About

    Elementary/K-5

    Secondary/6-12

    %

    %

    %

    0 hours

    14

    10

    17

    1-4 hours

    26

    35

    19

    5-9 hours

    28

    29

    28

    10-14 hours

    16

    13

    19

    15 or more hours

    15

    12

    18

    Mean

    8.1

    7.4

    8.8

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 1d

    HOURS PER WEEK CHILD PARTICIPATES IN OTHER SCHEDULED ACTIVITIES

    About how many hours in an average week would you say they spend in other scheduled activities, including lessons, tutoring, non-school sports teams, etc.?

    Base: Adult with Children In Grades K-12

    Total

    Grade of Child Asked About

    Elementary/K-5

    Secondary/6-12

    %

    %

    %

    0 hours

    31

    25

    37

    1-4 hours

    34

    41

    28

    5-9 hours

    21

    22

    20

    10-14 hours

    7

    10

    5

    15 or more hours

    6

    2

    10

    Mean

    4.2

    4.1

    4.3

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 1e

    HOURS OF FREE/LEISURE TIME PER WEEK

    And, during an average week during the school year, about how many hours would you say your child in [GRADE] has of ‘free/leisure’ time, including taking part in hobbies, playing, watching TV, relaxing, spending time with family or friends and otherwise doing things that they want to do that are not related to school and other ‘scheduled’ activities?

    Base: Adult with Children In Grades K-12

    Total

    Grade of Child Asked About

    Elementary/K-5

    Secondary/6-12

    %

    %

    %

    0 hours

    1

    1

    2

    1-4 hours

    13

    17

    9

    5-9 hours

    15

    15

    15

    10-19 hours

    24

    27

    22

    20 or more hours

    47

    40

    53

    Mean

    19.1

    17.8

    20.2

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 2a

    STATEMENT RELATING TO YOUR CHILD

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Summary Grid

    Base: Adult with Children In Grades K-12

    AGREE

    (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    DISAGREE (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    My child is generally happy.

    94

    62

    31

    6

    3

    3

    It’s important to me that my child be exposed to a broad variety of experiences.

    91

    55

    37

    9

    6

    3

    My child has enough free time to do things they want to do.

    88

    52

    36

    12

    8

    5

    My child is very imaginative.

    85

    50

    35

    15

    11

    4

    I feel pressured to put my child in activities that other children are doing.

    25

    5

    20

    75

    24

    51

    I worry that my child is over-programmed,” without enough free time.

    23

    7

    17

    77

    38

    39

    My child’s schedule is difficult for our household to balance.

    22

    5

    18

    78

    34

    44

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 2b

    STATEMENT RELATING TO YOUR CHILD

    Summary of Strongly agree + Somewhat agree Responses

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: Adult with Children In Grades K-12

    Total

    Grade of Child Being Asked About

    Amount of Free Time/Week

    Scheduled/Other School Time (Net)

    Elementary/ K-5

    Secondary/ 6-12

    Under 10 Hours

    10-19 Hours

    20+ Hours

    <15 Hours

    15+ Hours

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    My child is generally happy.

    94

    95

    92

    82

    100

    98

    94

    93

    It’s important to me that my child be exposed to a broad variety of experiences.

    91

    95

    88

    81

    98

    94

    90

    94

    My child has enough free time to do things they want to do.

    88

    93

    83

    70

    89

    98

    90

    81

    My child is very imaginative.

    85

    90

    81

    74

    90

    89

    86

    83

    I feel pressured to put my child in activities that other children are doing.

    25

    27

    24

    29

    31

    20

    21

    36

    I worry that my child is ”over-programmed,” without enough free time.

    23

    19

    27

    34

    25

    15

    18

    35

    My child’s schedule is difficult for our household to balance.

    22

    20

    24

    35

    23

    14

    20

    29


    TABLE 3a

    STATEMENT RELATING TO CHILDREN TODAY

    Summary Grid

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: All Adults

    AGREE

    (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    DISAGREE (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Undirected play (meaning time for children to do what they want, with no scheduled activity) is important to a child’s development.

    87

    52

    36

    13

    8

    5

    Parents today often schedule activities for their children just because all the other parents are doing the same thing.

    79

    28

    51

    21

    16

    5

    Parents today tend to over-program” their children’s time.

    77

    35

    41

    23

    17

    6

    It’s important that children be kept busy.

    75

    26

    49

    25

    19

    6

    I wish I’d had the opportunity to have as many different experiences as children do today.

    65

    24

    40

    35

    25

    10

    Children have less free time today than when I was in school.

    60

    25

    35

    40

    26

    14

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3b

    STATEMENT RELATING TO CHILDREN TODAY

    Summary of Strongly agree + Somewhat agree Responses

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Have School Aged Kids

    Generation

    Yes

    No

    Millennials
    , (18-36)

    Generation X
    , (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures

    (68+)

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Undirected play (meaning time for children to do what they want, with no scheduled activity) is important to a child’s development.

    87

    89

    87

    87

    87

    87

    90

    Parents today often schedule activities for their children just because all the other parents are doing the same thing.

    79

    79

    79

    77

    79

    81

    82

    Parents today tend to ”over-program” their children’s time.

    77

    77

    77

    69

    76

    81

    84

    It’s important that children be kept busy.

    75

    70

    76

    75

    72

    78

    70

    I wish I’d had the opportunity to have as many different experiences as children do today.

    65

    73

    62

    68

    64

    63

    59

    Children have less free time today than when I was in school.

    60

    61

    60

    56

    62

    62

    63

     


    Methodology

    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

    On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.