• Patrick McAndrew

Do Kids Still Play?

I have very fond memories playing when I was a kid.  I have very fond memories playing when I wasn’t a kid too, but as a full-grown adult!  I’ve been fortunate to continue playing into my adult years without any shame (I do theater after all).  There haven’t been many times where I’ve thought, “Perhaps I’m too old for this.”  I wouldn’t say I have Peter Pan syndrome, as much as I believe in the importance of holding onto childlike wonder.  It’s important to grow into a fully-fledged, independent adult.  This doesn’t mean that we still can’t play and have a good time.  It’s important for adults to do this, to continue engaging in fun and energetic activities that allow us to interact with one another in a carefree manner.

But what about kids?  Are the kiddos still playing today?  I often hear stories of playgrounds being desolate and the great outdoors being void of children’s laughter, even on the sunniest of days.  Where are these carefree kids spending their time?

The 2-Dimensional World

The answer: INSIDE!  A recent study found that 65% of kids log 3 hours or more on screens daily.  This isn’t for academic reasons either; this is purely recreational.  Whether it be watching TV, gaming, or surfing the web, kids are racking up the hours when it comes to screen time.  More screen time, of course, means less time for running around outside and, as Dr. Warren Rosenfield puts it, less time for “enjoying the 3-dimensional world.”

The 2-dimensional world, on the other hand, has taken society by storm, especially the little nuggets.  This increased screen time leads to more loneliness, social isolation, and anxiety among children.  This becomes especially prevalent once kids reach their teenage years.  And while these problems seem to be growing worse, many parents are at a loss with regards to how to solve this issue.

The Play Advocate

I just finished reading Charlie Hoehn’s incredible book, Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety.  He wrote this book after he was inspired to incorporate ‘play’ into his life after suffering from extreme cases of anxiety.  He got the idea from Dr. Stuart Brown’s book, Play: How It Shapes the Train, Open the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.  I dived into my own thoughts on this book in one of my early blog posts.

Hoehn discusses how ‘play’ is such a centerpiece of our childhood.  So much of our time is spent playing while we are kids and, for stupid societal reasons, play seems to vanish unknowingly from our lives.  Despite this, play is still essential to our well-being.  He quotes, “Play has the power to make our work easier, faster, and more enjoyable.  Isolating yourself from people erodes your health and sitting in a chair all day long is a recipe for neuroses.”  No wonder anxiety and depression are on the rise!

This brings up the concern: if kids aren’t playing, what does that mean for their social and psychological development?  Play is an essential aspect of how we learn and grow with one another.  When we are at play, we learn fundamental skills in how to communicate without even realizing it.  And, as highlighted in Hoehn’s book, it is crucial that we continue playing into our adulthood.  If children aren’t engaging in a great capacity, what will that mean for their adulthood and the future of the world?  These are big questions indeed, but it’s no secret that a lot of little things add up to a big thing.  It may be easier to leave children “to their own devices,” but it comes at a considerable cost.

Kids must run and play and get into trouble and get scrapped knees and boo-boos up the wazoo.  They must create imaginary worlds around them and bring their toys to life.  They must play catch and play games.  They must become a new person by dressing up as a police officer or as a famous pop star.  They must concoct scientific experiments and mix ketchup with chocolate syrup and pickle juice and vinegar and sugar cubes.  The floor must become lava and kids must get creative with regards to how they are going to get from the living room to the kitchen or else they will DIE!  They must create forts and tell stories and have epic adventures.  Sure, it may be fake, but they are living it.  In the moment, it isn’t fake and is more real than anything else.  They aren’t living anything when they are looking at a screen and swiping the entire time.

I think it goes without saying that these play activities are essential in the development of the person.  But because they seem so minuscule in the moment, it’s easy to forget their importance.  Kids must continue playing so that they can continue playing well into adulthood.  If they don’t and instead resign themselves to 2-dimensional worlds, the world won’t accomplish all that much.

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