Play or Pay? The High Cost of Reduced Parent-Child Play Time

Play is an integral part of a child’s development. Psychological professionals and researchers have studied the positive effects of play on cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning in children. Play therapy has been shown to be a highly effective tool for addressing issues with children who are unable to respond to other forms of traditional therapies. Many experts have demonstrated time and time again the importance of parent-child play time to strengthen the parent-child bond and instill a sense of security and value in a child. However much these effects have been studied, they have been examined far less in the context of adulthood.

Emerging adults are adolescents who are moving out of their childhood home and on to college or careers. These individuals are undergoing significant changes in their sense of attachment and parental dependency and will mostly likely find themselves relying on the adaptive characteristics that were developed in childhood. To understand how parent-child play time in childhood influences the behaviors during early adulthood, Cliff McKinney of the Department of Psychology at Mississippi State University recently conducted a study of 328 college students ranging from 18 to 25 years of age. The students all came from two-parent middle-class homes.

McKinney interviewed the students and found that perceived playtime was significantly predictive of adaptive mental health adjustment in young adulthood. For both men and women, paternal and maternal positive play time and parenting directly predicted the levels of psychological functioning during this critical life transition. McKinney also discovered that the female participants’ perception of their parents’ parenting traits corresponded to the actual amount of time that was spent in play. This finding was not evident in the male participants.

McKinney believes that these findings warrant future exploration and should be expanded by gender to broaden the scope of the results. He also feels that the importance of play, as highlighted here, is especially critical in a time when more attention is being focused on academics and less on productive play. He says that play approaches such as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and Filial Therapy are excellent programs and that these and other avenues of parent-child play should be encouraged by medical, educational, and psychological organizations. McKinney added, “The parent and child learn and grow together through playtime where the parent is able to help develop the child’s skills through effective parenting practices.”

McKinney, C., Power, L. (2012). Childhood playtime, parenting, and psychopathology in emerging adults: Implications for research and play therapists. International Journal of Play Therapy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029172

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Lara M

    July 10th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    Any time that you as the parent have to spend with your child, then that is such a bonus that many parents squander and see as unimportant.
    However our children remember these things. They remember the time that you spent with them as children and the things that you did together as a family.
    How could that not impact who they become and the way that they perceive their childhood after they are grown?

  • jackson t

    July 10th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    I want my kids to know that any time when they want to play I am there to give that time to them. I know a lot of guys who just won’t make the time for their children, they have to work or have a ball game to watch, but I always try to tell myself that there will be a time that comes when they won’t want anything to do with me. And I want to be able to know then when they did that I always made time for them.

  • Dennie

    July 10th, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    I think that a large part of how we interact with our own children is created by how our own parents interacted with us.

    Think about that the next time you tell your kids that you don’t have time to play, that you have more important things to do.

  • Amy D

    July 11th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    Even if you are not “playing” in the true sense of the word I believe that spending quality time with your children is vital to a strong family bond and relationship. Read to them, talk to them, walk with them and hold their and. Cherish those moments that you have to spend that time with them because that is time that you can never get back once it is gone. Too many times we get so distracted by our work schedule, our housework, and just staying on the go the way families do today. But this is our wake up call that we need to do more to keep the family together and involved with each other.

  • R.Anderson

    July 11th, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    Well this really has to be given a lot more importance by both adolescents and their parents…What happens at this time usually is that the distance between the youngsters and their parents increases in this period…They kind of drift away and the kids try and avoid the involvement of parents.

    But we all know what great a support parents can be at this important juncture of a youngster’s life…So if that support is harnessed within a well developed parent-child relationship, then it really looks like a win-win to both the parents and the children.

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