Play is our human birthright and yet we see a devaluing of play in our culture. We are seeing the erosion of the value of play, especially playing outdoors, manifesting in nature-deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv. The time children and parents could spend outdoors playing is often spent tied to a computer or television screen. This lack of play and connection to nature has resulted in greater incidences of obesity and other physical and emotional disorders.
In our neighborhoods children are rarely seen playing outdoors in yards or parks. Instead, they take part in prearranged after school activities or organized lessons, such as ballet or soccer. Parents clock many driving hours to get their children here and there and when they return home the door closes and remains closed for the rest of the evening. Weekends are busy as well with soccer games, birthday parties, or planned sleepovers. Free play outdoors, such as biking, skating, jumping rope, or skipping down the street with friends is rare. This is mainly due to our busy schedules and priorities that do not involve finding opportunities to play with neighbors in our area.
Some neighborhoods have adequate parks and playgrounds, but many do not. In urban areas working parents are often forced to leave their children to fend for themselves. In these same urban spaces there is not always a YMCA or Boys Club. Many children find themselves going home after school to an empty house with only a television to keep them company.
In our schools recess is often being seen as unnecessary and, in fact, detrimental to our children’s progress. Testing has become all important. How can they achieve high test scores unless teachers utilize all the available time during school hours teaching our children how to test well? Even lunchtime is often shortened to save time for more important matters.
Parents who find themselves working long hours during the day and evenings, are often at the beck-and-call of their work. Some parents with more financial resources can afford nannies, after school care, dance lessons, and soccer, or summer camp, however they are still left out of the play with their children.
As a culture we are also worried about children’s safety. The news is filled with what could happen to our children if we aren’t vigilant. Parents are loaded up with big concerns and worries about their children’s future. Climbing trees, playing outdoors in the rain or snow, playing with the kids in the neighborhood without a structured play date—these activities also appear to be unsafe. Parents want to protect their children, so the door is often shut to these types of play.
A Call to Playful Action:
There are many organizations advocating play for everyone, both children and adults, in rural and urban areas. Many of these organizations are devoted to education about the value of play, and have completed extensive research on the benefits of the subject.
© Copyright 2011 by Mary Alice Long, PhD, therapist in Langley, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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