Remember playing outside with your friends after school and on the weekends? These days you’re more likely to find a child in the house on the computer, or at a scheduled sports event. Research suggests that the lack of adult-free outdoor playtime may have serious consequences for a child’s development and mental health. There was a time, not too long ago, that parents encouraged their kids to get out of the house and “go play.” Today, many parents are so involved in their children’s lives that kids are not being allowed the freedom to have unsupervised play. So what’s keeping kids indoors? Experts say many parents are afraid. They worry that their child might be abducted, hit by a car or bullied. All this involvement is not easy on parents either. Many feel as if they are running on a treadmill trying to keep with all the activities that are scheduled. There is also a concern that their child may fall behind some arbitrary line that points toward success. There is considerable pressure on families to participate in this hurried lifestyle.
The importance of play:
When children are allowed to play, several things start happening. They make-up games – using their creativity skills, negotiate rules – using their personal interaction skills, and solve problems on their own- using critical thinking skills. Theses are all attributes that can serve them well as they grow older. Through free play, they are acquiring the basic competencies we ultimately need to become adults.
Research has also shown that today’s highly supervised children are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness and narcissism, all of which coincides with a decrease in play and more monitoring and managing of children’s activities by parents.
There are certain circumstances in which children should probably not play outside unsupervised. High crime areas are not safe for children to be in without the watchful eyes of a parent. It would be wrong to assume that the current trends are a problem for all children; some excel with a highly driven schedule. Because we need skilled young people to be well prepared to be tomorrow’s leaders, we must recognize the advantages to the increased exposures and enriched academics some of our children are receiving. In fact, many of our children, particularly those in poverty, should receive more enrichment activities. But even children who are benefiting from this enrichment still need some free unscheduled time for creative growth, self-reflection, and decompression and would profit from the unique developmental benefits of child-driven play. There has been a significant increase in studies; discussions and articles on the positive affects of child-driven playtime, but a decrease in the amount of time kids are actually playing.
While academics and social–enrichment programs are important; play is a cherished part of childhood that offers not only fun and relaxation for children, but great developmental benefits as well. Now where’s that tree house?