Does the Lack of Play Time Cause Mental Illness?

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"Today, by at least some estimates, five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago."

Peter Gray, PhD, "The Decline of Play and Rise in Children's Mental Disorders", Psychology Today

I an no stranger to the importance of play.  My work with Darrell Hammond and KaBOOM, the World Congress of Play and in several articles in this magazine have revolved around the notion that playful children are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy children.  And not just children, adults need to play as well…badly.  

Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen a denigration of play as a waste of time.  "Children need to be getting ready as early as pre-school to have a successful career," is a notion we hear with depressing regularity.  The result is a workload for children that rivals that of their parents.  I would propose that work for a child is anything that is assigned or overseen by an adult.  That means that school, soccer practice and a playgroup are all forms of work.  I added it all up and my my reckoning the average child therefore works a 60 hour week.

That was why I was so struck by Dr. Peter Gray's article in Psychology Today, "The Decline of Play and Rise in Children's Mental Disorders."   As Dr. Gray puts it: 

…children's freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined greatly in recent decades. Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests.

As Dr. Gray points out, free play without adult supervision allows a child to develop their coping skills.  When adults hover and actively insert themselves into a child's play time they are depriving the child of a sense that they have the ability to solve problems.  The lack of that confidence results in increased levels of anxiety.

I have only been able in this space to summarize a few of his points. Take the time to read the full article.  It's an important statement on the crisis in play time.  

Thank you Lisa Orman of Kidstuff PR for bringing this great article to my attention.

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