Mr. Rogers said that “play is really the work of childhood” but it is also a way for children to learn about the world while exploring and testing their own limits. Play is so important to child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.
Sadly, children are given less time for free play. There are many reasons for this. Among them are messages some parents receive from marketing campaigns that say good parents should ensure their children participate in a wide variety of structured activities.
Limited Adult Supervision
There are more families with a single head of household or two working parents and fewer multigenerational households in which grandparents and extended family members can watch the children. This makes it necessary for children to be in child care or other settings in which they can be monitored by adults throughout the day.
Too Much Screen Time & Extracurricular Activities
Many infants and children spend hours watching electronic devices instead of playing. Some families want to produce super-achieving children and go to extreme efforts, at great personal sacrifice, to make sure their children participate in a variety of athletic and artistic opportunities without considering the child’s need for down time.
Anxiety and Depression
Rates of depression and anxiety among young people in America have been increasing for the past 50 to 70 years. By some estimates, five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder and/or generalized anxiety disorder as was true half a century ago.
One thing we know about anxiety and depression is that they correlate significantly with people's sense of control or lack of control over their own lives. People who believe that they are in charge of their own fate are less likely to become anxious or depressed than those who believe that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control. The data indicate that young people's belief that they have control over their own destinies has declined sharply over the decades.
Adults Need Play Time Too
Adults need to play as well. In our hectic lives, many of us focus so heavily on work and family commitments that we never seem to have time for pure fun. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we stop playing. Play could be:
- goofing off with friends,
- sharing jokes with a coworker,
- throwing a frisbee on the beach,
- playing a board game,
- playing fetch with a dog, or
- going for a bike ride with no destination in mind.
The only point of play is having fun and enjoying yourself. Play with your children and let them bring out the inner child in you.
About the Author
Helene Lieberman, MS, OTR/L, is a clinical instructor and assistant academic fieldwork coordinator at Nova Southeastern University. She is a member of Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital PFAC Behavioral Health Committee.