Today’s children don’t have time to play independently — and to develop social skills — writes psychologist Peter Gray on Aeon. The adults are always in charge.
Growing up in the 1950s, Gray had a “hunter-gatherer education” in addition to formal schooling. The neighborhood kids played after school, often till dark, in mixed-age groups. They played on the weekends and in the summer.
We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us.
Since then, adult-directed sports for children have replaced “pickup” games, Gray writes. Adult-directed extracurriculars have replaced hobbies. Parents are afraid to let kids play without supervision.
As children’s free play has declined, children have shown more signs of anxiety and depression, he writes on psychological surveys. Since the ’50s, “the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.”
In addition, surveys show “a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism.”
Children aren’t learning social skills through play, writes Gray. At school, an authoritarian setting, they learn to compete rather than cooperate. Extending the school day will widen the “play deficit” even more, argues Gray.
Kids who want to work — mowing lawns — face “safety” barriers, writes Mollie Hemingway. On the neighborhood listserv, someone asked for feedback on “a group of adorable and entrepreneurial kids (young, maybe 9-11 years old)” looking for mowing jobs. “We didn’t see a parent with them supervising.”
A link was provided to Mowing the Lawn Can Be a Dangerous Chore, which recommended “polycarbonate protective eyewear” for anyone mowing — or in the vicinity.