Susan Linn Interview: the “Philosophical Baby” author decodes your child’s brain. Babble.com’s Five Minute Time Out.

Susan Linn

“The Case for Make Believe” author says today’s kids don’t know how to play

by Emily Frost

October 16, 2009

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Susan Linn is serious about play, which makes sense – she’s an award-winning ventriloquist and internationally known puppeteer and one of the late Fred Rogers’ collaborators. But Linn also fears for the very survival of play, a concern that stems from her work as Associate Director of the Media Center at Judge Baker Children’s Center, and Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She’s found that unfortunately, we can no longer take it for granted that children know how to play pretend.

Kids’ ability and opportunities to make believe are threatened from all fronts, says Linn, and that includes by their parents. And, lest you underestimated its importance, Linn reminds us that the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child lists play as a guaranteed right, next to access to nutritious food and clean drinking water.

Babble spoke with Linn about The Case for Make Believe (recently released in paperback), how to best nurture our children’s instinctual yearning for creative play, and what she learned in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood. (Check out an excerpt here.) – Emily Frost

Why is make believe so fundamental to our children’s development, and to their development as good citizens?

It is the foundation of creativity and constructive problem solving. It’s how children learn to wrestle with life, to make it meaningful. It is through creative play that children learn cooperation, social coping skills, and negotiation. But also, it’s how they learn divergent and critical thinking, and how they feel empowered to take action – those are all especially important in a democratic citizenry.

How are today’s parents stifling play without realizing it?

It’s not that I’m placing the blame solely on parents – this is a societal issue. And yet, as we need to work to change society, there are also things parents can do within their family.

Kids aren’t playing freely outdoors as much anymore, and one of the reasons that parents give for that is stranger danger. Yet the statistics on stranger kidnappings haven’t changed in the past twenty-five years. But parents perceive that the world as a dangerous place. And certainly there are neighborhoods where it is dangerous for kids to be out alone. But, there are lots of neighborhoods where that’s not the case.

Another way is the push to structure children’s time so that there always have to be organized things for children to do, instead of just letting children create their own amusement.

But one of the biggest problems is the commercialization of children’s lives and this push by the media, and toy and marketing industries, to convince parents and children that children need the things that corporations sell in order to play, in order to be creative, and that whatever children can make up by themselves isn’t good enough.

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