The difference between childhood today and back then is different. As children, we played Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters, Pixie Hollow or Flash Games on Y8.com with a slow, tiny, HP laptop. Our lives reflected the culture, trends and/or opportunities that surrounded us. When the culture changed in the midst of new video games, technologies, etc., our families, friends and relatives adapted to that and now there is a significant difference in children’s lives today. Eventually, we will look back at these things later on in life, as our ancestors have before and watch ourselves in awe at all the things we lived without that younger generations have now. For more than fifty years, children’s free play time has been continually declining, and it’s keeping them from turning into confident adults.
What Is Interfering With Children’s Play?
If children were allowed to be in control of their own source of entertainment, it would provide them with a stable foundation in terms of mental health that can further benefit them into adulthood. It essentially gives them the opportunity to develop their own sense of self and identity due to their newly-discovered interests. According to Peter Gray, on Psychology Today, “Children are designed, by natural selection, to play…The extraordinary human propensity to play in childhood, and the value of it, manifests itself most clearly in hunter-gatherer cultures. Anthropologists and other observers have regularly reported that children in such cultures play and explore freely, essentially from dawn to dusk, every day—even in their teen years—and by doing so they acquire the skills and attitudes required for successful adulthood.”
Furthermore, parents, as well as environment/neighborhood are an integral aspect as to why children don’t play anymore. Yes, some reasons are valid, while others are not as justifiable. The most prominent concern is regarding their children’s safety. For example, bullies, strangers, no adult supervision, etc. Although it may not be obvious at the moment, those barriers can cause a real dent to a child’s developing competency and awareness. If we look back at generations, these concerns have grown even more throughout the years. Overall freedom and certain actions taken by children were a lot more permissible in the past. Many parents or guardians, out of good will, try to manage their children’s safety through controlled surveillance, i.e.: where their kids can go, what time they need to be home, always call and text where you are, and more. Sometimes this may not be necessary, nonetheless— it limits a child’s independence and potential.
What Are The Benefits of Play Time?
Additionally, referring to the article written by Esther Entin from The Atlantic, it can be argued that children spend time by themselves because they lack permission to go outside and play freely with others (or on their own). And even if they are allowed outside, they are not sure who they can play with or simply do not find being outdoors an appealing enough reward. Listed below are benefits of play in childhood:
- Problem Solving, Decision Making, Self Control
- Children make their own decisions and solve any problem that might occur; and sometimes, this requires being able to control their actions and accept any restrictions to their own behavior. Playing can be a great way to raise a child’s self awareness.
- Learn How To Handle Emotions
- It can be mentally straining for a child to not feel in control of their life. The children who believe they are in charge of their own fate and the outcome of their actions are less likely to lose control of their emotions, as opposed to those who feel like everything is beyond their control.
- Making Connections, Maintaining Childhood Joy
- In playing freely, children learn to cooperate and communicate well with other people. It teaches them that they aren’t special, or more gifted or talented compared to somebody else. It teaches them to be considerate of others’ needs and treat everyone as equals.
The Rise and The Fall
According to Active For Life, there is this unfair ideal of what “the ideal parent” is. For some, parents may feel like their kid always needs to be watched which inherently makes them the “good” parent. While the other lets their child roam or play freely, ultimately making them the “bad”, irresponsible parent. It is no secret that parents are much more protective than they used to be. But this doesn’t make someone who is protective, a bad parent. These types of parents exist because they want to keep you away from harm, and watch you succeed. I cannot speak for all, however, most parents want their children to be happy and healthy above all else.
Children’s play is the best gift you could give your child, and a necessary one if you want to see them psychologically healthy and emotionally competent. I believe adults need to start encouraging free play at a young age again rather than encouraging dependence on technology (iPads, iPhones, Tablets, etc.). Regardless of one’s parenting choices, there is always a chance to revive a sense of community, as well as independence in their children only when the parents and/or guardians are willing.