Less Play Time = More Troubled Kids

Do you encourage your children to play outside?

My husband and I have completely different parenting styles, as do a lot of parents, I imagine. Our kids are very young, but I often wonder how these differences will manifest themselves when our kids are of the age they want to leave the house and play with friends.

I grew up playing games with all the neighbors. Running around, climbing trees, fences the whole nine yards. I’d like my kids to have a similar childhood in that regard. I wonder if my husband will be up for letting them carouse around our neighborhood or if he’ll want to keep a constant eye on them. Also, do children even go outside and play anymore?  Perhaps what I’m about to tell you will help convince my husband to take a step back from being so vigilant.

As Jenifer Goodwin reports for Healthday, “in this era of hyper-vigilant parenting” researchers say American children have way less time to play than children from 50 years ago and this lack of play time may cause serious mental issues.

Goodwin interviewed Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College who says “Into the 1950s, children were free to play a good part of their childhood. If you stayed in your house around your mom, she’d say ‘go out and play.’ The natural place for a kid was outside.  Today, it’s quite the opposite. Parents are not allowing kids the freedom to play. And even if they do, there are no other kids out there to play with, or the mother may have such restrictions on the child, such as ‘you can’t go out of the yard’ that the kids don’t want to stay out there.”

What a disappointment.  Playing outside, to me, was the greatest part of childhood.  We made up games, built forts, tunneled through bushes, it was awesome.  Gray agrees, saying that when kids play they make up games, negotiate rules and make sure others are playing fair.  This helps kids learn to problem solve, gain self-control and make decisions without parents constantly hovering around, telling them how to behave.  “Children who have too many emotional outbursts or who insist on getting their way too often quickly learn they need to change their behavior if they want to continue to be welcomed into the group”,  Goodwin reports Gray as saying.

That’s so important.  Those are all the basic behaviors we need to become successful adults.  But since the mid-1950s, adults are becoming increasingly more involved in their children’s activities, to the point that children have no “free” play that is directed by kids.  Playing organized sports or taking a dance class doesn’t count.

Goodwin says:

Research suggests that today’s 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, he wrote in this special journal issue devoted to the decline in free play.  For boys, in particular, rough-and-tumble play helps teach emotional regulation…Boys learn that if they want to keep their friend, they can’t let things go too far or truly hurt the other child — a skill that helps boys grow into men who keep aggression and anger in check.

One survey Gray references requested a large group of parents keep track of their kids’ activities on a random day in 1981 and another in 1997.  They discovered 6- to 8-year olds of 1997 played about 25 percent less than that age group in 1981.  In a second study 830 mothers were asked to compare their kids’ play with their own play as children.  70 percent of the mothers reported playing outdoors daily as children, but just 31 percent said their own kids did. Mothers also said when their kids played outside, they stayed outside for less time.

So why are we keeping our kids indoors?  Survey says… fear of abduction is huge, followed closely by worries about kids getting hit by cars.  Hara Estroff Marano, author of the book A Nation of Wimps:  The High Cost of Invasive Parenting says we’re creating a nation of wimps who are unable to cope with life because they have no experience doing so.

“The home of the brave has given way to the home of the fearful, the entitled, the risk averse, and the narcissistic.  Today’s young, at least in the middle class and upper class, are psychologically fragile,” Marano said in a recently published interview.

Parenting is a delicate balance and oftentimes fear gets in the way of us letting our children truly enjoy life and become the brave, confident adults we want them to eventually be.  And the media constantly barraging us with the stories of horrible things being done to children doesn’t help, but those stories are important to hear about.  Or are they?  What are your thoughts on children and playtime outdoors?  Are you afraid to let your children play outside unsupervised?



The Case for Make Believe: Why your kid’s most important job is to play

Article Posted 5 years Ago
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