I watched a really interesting TED talk by Peter Gray about the state of play today. I initially saw this video on facebook with a caption reading “Kids today are more depressed than they were during the great depression”. As a therapist, that immediately got my attention, and I decided to watch it. What a great video! Here are a few key points I took away from the video:
Human children play far more than any other mammals, and (as has been reported over and over again) this is fundamental to social and emotional development. When kids play, they problem solve, learn to get along with others, practice empathy and take other people’s perspectives.
When kids feel like they have less control over their own lives, it can lead to depression and anxiety
There has been an erosion of children’s ability to play freely - Why?
School like view of child development
There’s a fear of danger - something will happen, kids will get hurt, someone will kidnap or hurt the kids
It’s a self-generative situation - if fewer kids are outside, it means it’s less attractive and less likely that kids will just go outside and find someone who is around to play
So what can we do to help promote
play with our own children?
Examine priorities - What do we want for our kids and how do we achieve it? Make conscious decisions about how you and your family spend your time. Make time to play every day. Don’t overschedule your children. Have at least a couple of afternoons a week where they don’t have to be anywhere or do anything and they can just free play at home.
Create neighborhoods - Even if you don’t live in a family friendly neighborhood, try to create your own. Join a parent group. Find a community that you can belong to with kids who can play with yours.
Establish places for kids to play - When we stayed in Toronto this summer, we went to this phenomenal adventure playground - The Jamie Bell Adventure Playground. It was amazing, and the kids had so much fun. It was such a great foundation for pretend play!
Don’t increase time in school - More isn’t always better. Instead let’s focus on a better use of the time that kids are in school. Let’s focus on creative thinking, problem solving and social and emotional development - this would position children to perform more successfully as adults in whatever they choose to do.
I know it can be hard to make connections and it depends on where you live. I’m lucky to live in a kid friendly neighborhood with a girl across the street who is my daughter’s age. They have a blast imagining and pretending together and sometimes even include the little brother in the fun :-) We have a little park nearby where we sometimes go. While there aren’t a ton of structures, the kids use their imaginations and make up all sorts of games and play together. I would encourage you to find connections and make time to meet at playgrounds or set up times to meet at your homes and have your kids play. Just because it’s scheduled doesn’t mean it lacks imagination. Play every day! And for kids who struggle to make friends, having a structured time to work on building these skills is key in helping them develop their social skills!
How do you encourage your kids to play?