Whatever happened to 'go outside and play'?

Story highlights

  • After an article about overscheduled children, readers shared their thoughts
  • Some commenters said childhood should be a time of freedom and character-building
  • Some say a key childhood right is to play outdoors without hovering parents
  • Some said play dates can be restrictive and take the imagination out of playtime

CNN's Josh Levs covers top stories and hosts "Dads Do it Differently" on HLN's "Raising America." His latest column was inspired in part by his HOBY World Leadership Congress keynote talk, "Shine."

(CNN)"Parental competition" has sent American families into a frenzy of overscheduling activities for their kids. And out of fear, we're depriving them of what childhood should be -- a time of freedom and character-building. Our neighborhoods, once the classic microcosm of a free America, have devolved into little more than supervised "dorms."

Josh Levs
Those were the sentiments behind many passionate responses to my column, "Overscheduled kids, anxious parents," about the conundrum facing millions of parents like me: Determining how many, and which, activities in which to enroll our kids. On CNN.com, Facebook, and Twitter, readers responded in droves.
    They were largely in agreement. With children penned in by too much structure, lacking the chance and encouragement to "go out and play," make up their own games and use their imaginations, we're hurting them, readers said.
      "Most of this movement is fueled by parental competition," said the CNN.com comment with the most "likes," posted under the name "Coco Bear."
      "An 8-year-old going to school, taking piano, swimming, quantum physics and ninja training on the weekend is, more than anything, a future psychologist's client," she wrote, adding that when the child's adult life "doesn't turn out to be as grandiose as mom and dad forced him/her to believe," it will be evident that what he or she had really needed as a child were playtime, "friendships and positive examples."
      Just about everywhere I've gone since the column published, people have stopped me to say they agree with a clinical psychologist I quoted, who argued that hectic schedules are damaging American families. Many also agree with a trainer who said kids should wait until they're 11 or 12 to join league sports.
      In our Facebook discussion, Gary Simmons wrote that organized sports "are good for kids, but not if that's the only time they play. Playing pickup games, with no parent around overcoaching and killing the fun, is how kids develop passion and instincts for sports. It's when they develop their game. The inner-city athlete has changed the way basketball is played today. They grew up playing on their own."

      Get over the fear

      Many commenters said nervous parents are keeping kids from an important childhood rite -- the chance to play outdoors without the feeling that adults have to watch over them every second to keep them safe.
      "I had free reign over a two square block area," CNN commenter Lebowski 113 wrote of his childhood. "As long as I could hear my parents calling from the yar