After racing home from school on my Schwinn banana seat bike with the orange flagpole blowing in the wind, I throw my ride to the ground and toss my Evil Knevil lunch box on the steps of the house. I briefly pause, only long enough to kiss mom. I grab a couple ding-dongs, my baseball cards and bubble yum. I am ready to play!
I fire up the big wheel and peel out down the sidewalk. With my neighborhood friends at my side, we head for an empty field, a tree or someone’s backyard trampoline. It doesn’t matter. We are free to do anything and to go anywhere (at least until 6:00 dinner when everyone asks who is having Kraft Macaroni and Cheese so we can get asked over). This was being a kid; this was true adventure and an unforgettable time.
A lot has changed since 1974. Today kids know smart phones, Facebook, and texting. Times change, but progress doesn’t always equate to something better for our kids. Here is some solid data to ponder:
- Today the average kid spends 1,197 minutes per week behind the TV. I watched my fair share of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family but today it’s Jersey Shore, South Park, Bad Girl’s Club and the Family Guy.
- That same child will spend only 38.5 minutes of meaningful conversation with their parents in the same week.
- That child will witness 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV before age 18.
- 75% of all kids ages 12-17 own a cell phone
- They average 3600 texts per month
- 160,000 students stay home every day for fear of being bullied
A lot has changed. Sure, kids worry about the same things like being accepted by other kids, wearing the right clothes, or not getting picked last for the dodge ball game. But they also worry about other stuff too, stuff typically reserved for adults.
But one very important thing hasn’t changed. One thing has remained the same for eons, no matter what else has gone on around us – kids have always and will always want, desire, and need to play. The simple act of being a child and having fun teaches lessons more valuable than you can imagine.
Since 2000 our kids have lost on average 12 hours of free time per week. Of this 12 hours, 8 hours are lost unstructured or ‘creative’ time. And it is this invaluable play time that teaches our kids to solve conflicts, master emotional tasks of development and the learn a social culture. Less face time, more Facebook. Less real time, more reality tv. The combination of our loss of play and increase in artificial entertainment is blurring the lines of what is reality, what is private, what is friend and it is having an impact on our children.
So what is so important about play and how can bringing it back help us grow a healthier child? The following is a list of things we should be giving our kids and is credited to Dr. Robert B. Ditter:
1. The Opportunity to Experience a Sense of Wonder
Our kids are hardwired to explore their world, to be hands-on and allow their curiosity to flourish. This intrinsically means an experience with the outdoors and with nature.
2. The Opportunity to Create and Play with Abandon
It is through play that our kids learn about the word, act out their emotions and create a sense of self esteem and worth immeasurable from anywhere else.
3. The Opportunity to be in a Community that is Inter-generational
Consistent exposure to persons of varying age, race, religion and ethnicity provide for a greater understanding of others, themselves and our world.
4. The Opportunity for Meaningful Connection with Someone Who Cares
Sounds so simple, but a video game just doesn’t even come close.
5. The Opportunity to Experience Hope and Overcome Fear and Doubt
All to often we take away the opportunities to overcome fear and doubt because we never let our kids experience it appropriately. Rest assured they will deal with fear and failure. Better we provide them with the tools to overcome them now.
6. The Opportunity to Express Gratitude
Teaching our kids to be humble and grateful for so much is a lesson that will provide them with a greater propensity for happiness their entire life
This is what we as parents and communities need to instill in our kids. We must facilitate fun and ensure that ‘play’ is treated with a greater importance and that meaningful conversation involves taking time to look them in the eye and be in their presence. Our kids must play hard, and jump, swim, throw, catch, skip, dance, crash, run, and laugh. They must take to the yard and build a fort and make mud pies. They must pretend to be super hero’s and run like mad through the sprinkler. Because we can not expect to raise healthy and happy adults if we don’t grow happy and healthy kids.