I don’t know about you, but I seem to see a lot of this lately: despite the fact that they complain incessantly about their kids having no free time to just hang out, parents continue to schedule organized events and activities, thereby ensuring that their children will have no free time to just hang out.

The question is, is it such a big deal? Do kids really benefit from having more and more organized (and supposedly enriching) activities, or is it important for them to have some free “down time” inside their own heads, engaging in unstructured play?

Well, according to a recent article in Scientific American, it just may be the latter. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that there are indeed negative consequences to an absence of unstructured playtime in our children’s lives, to the point that pathological behavior may be the end result, including a life of crime.

While that may be extreme, more experts are acknowledging that free-play for children is important and should not be sacrificed for more organized activities. And while psychologists can’t seem to agree about its causal relationship with bad behavior (as a child and/or an adult), they are in agreement over one thing: spontaneous play is a good thing.

Free play, without rules or structure, fosters creativity and imagination, while also requiring children to become more self sufficient and able to entertain themselves. Some believe that even makes kids smarter. When children play together without set rules, it requires strong social skills and teaches them, out of necessity, about cooperation and fairness while also nurturing effective skills in communication.

Though organized sports and activities have their time and place, there is something to be said about having fun and playing where adults are not even remotely involved, something that I grew up with (as I’m sure many of you reading this did, as well) yet is an increasingly rare occurrence in the modern world.

I’ll readily admit that I’m no expert on the subject, but as a parent, I have noticed that when children grow up with no free time, it seems to me that like begets like. In other words, kids who are over-scheduled so that they are never bored seem to get bored more easily, because in the absence of regular scheduled programming, they have a harder time entertaining themselves and are at a loss for what to do besides watching TV.

Furthermore, many of these activities come with a cost, whether it be in terms of money, time, quality of life, and even our health. Sure, the monetary expense can be negligible, especially if they are administered through schools or recreation centers, but private leagues or lessons can cost you a bundle, and that’s not even factoring in all of the lost time.

For the amount of time it requires to take part in these events can be enormous. Time, mind you, that might be better spent together as a family, enjoying a wholesome home-cooked meal instead of something you heat up in a microwave, or even getting more sleep. And let’s not forget about all of the stress that it entails.

On the other hand, letting your kids have unstructured playtime can be as simple as letting them romp around in the backyard or upstairs in their bedroom while you relax with a cup of tea. Yet, in light of this, we seem to push free time further and further out of the picture.

Why this the case is anyone’s guess, but like most things in life, especially with parenting, the reasons are probably not so simple and straightforward. After all, I think it’s fair to say that parents (for the most part) have their children’s best interests in mind. Furthermore, in the intensely competitive world that we live in, who doesn’t succumb to the notion that children need a leg up to succeed?

Maybe it just boils down to achieving some balance, and asking yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. If it feel like all the schedules and activities are spiraling out of control, it might not be a bad idea to take a step back and simply let children be themselves.

If you aren’t sure how, just remember when you were young and it will all come back to you.