An article in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Play details not only how much children's play time has deteriorated, but how this lack of play affects emotional development, leading to increased anxiety, depression, and difficulties with attention and self-control.
Since about 1955 ... children's free play has been continually declining, at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children's activities," says the author Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology (emeritus) at Boston College. Gray defines "free play" as play a child undertakes him- or her-self and which is self-directed and an end in itself, rather than part of some organized activity.
Then, along comes this article from the Fred Rogers Center, What Does Children’s “Obsession” With Technology Tell Us About What They Really Need? turning that concept upside down, stating, "Today’s technology may be meeting the same childhood needs as those of earlier generations."
When we look at children spending what appears to be excessive amounts of time watching television and using smartphones, tablets, and other devices, we are often looking through the lenses of our own experiences—memories of reading, playing outside, socializing with friends and family, and seemingly long stretches of time in which we didn’t have anything to do. We may even have a tendency to think that childhood was better without the influx of new technologies.
Well, both of these entities are reputable; whom should we believe? My guess is both. Think about it, TV was once blamed as the downfall of all things evil and rock and roll was banned in Santa Cruz in 1956, claiming it, “Detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”
Let’s back up one step, my mantra has always been that moderation is the key to life, so if we as parents and educators take on the role of monitoring what our kids are up to, we ought to be able to put this all into perspective. We can only do this if we take an active role as both participants and supervisors of what our children are doing with their time. Children thrive on structure and routines, let’s get involved and make sure that our kids are getting a healthy dose of free play and know that part of their screen time is spent with reputable learning games. In the spirit of Fred Rogers, and their mission statement, helping children grow as confident, competent, and caring human beings should be our priority.
FIVE WAYS PLAY BENEFITS KIDS
When children are in charge of their own play, it provides a foundation for their future mental health as older children and adults. Gray outlines five main benefits:
1. Play gives children a chance to find and develop a connection to their own self-identified and self-guided interests.
2. It is through play that children first learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules.
3. Children learn to handle their emotions, including anger and fear, during play.
4. Play helps children make friends and learn to get along with each other as equals.
5. Most importantly, the play is a source of happiness.