Does lack of free play contribute to youth mental health crisis? – Slugger O’Toole

My 6 year old son was heartbroken last night. He was reading one of his Biff and Chip textbooks and in the story, the characters were called to each other’s house to play. “Why is no one calling my house to play?” Asked? It was a perfectly reasonable question, but very difficult to explain in terms of what a 6-year-old could answer.

He is not Billy and he has no friends, he has friends. But these days everything has to be arranged in advance: “Opening times” is the new buzzword. I should drive him to the park or his friends’ houses. The episodic play that many of us played as children is now dead. Free play has been replaced by paid regulated activities. Modern parents know the joy of having to lead a beginner to gymnastics, swimming, football, etc.

Our streets no longer ring with the sounds of children’s toys. They are now eerily silent, except for the noise of cars. In my area there are hundreds of children but you rarely see them. All locked up in their rooms, most likely online.

I define free play as unstructured play that is outside the control of adults. Kids walk around making their own rules and toys. If Paul hits Marty they sort it out themselves. Basically parent-free as much as possible.

Free play is essential to children’s development. It helps with their communication and speech, they learn to cooperate with each other, they learn to regulate emotions, they learn to improve their motor skills and fine movements, they develop independence and so on.

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When I was a kid I used to play in the street with all the other kids in the area. You can call someone’s home, “Does Kenny exist?”. I grew up in inner city Belfast during the Troubles, and I laugh that as a kid I had real soldiers to play with. Now parents are too afraid to let their kids go out. The main issues seem to be:

cars: Virtually every home has one or two cars now, which removes the play space from children and also encourages the fear of demolishing them.

strange danger: The world has never been safer, but thanks to decades of media stories about pedophiles on every corner, parents are terrified of letting their children out of their sights.

Instead, parents and children entered into a Faustian agreement with each other and screens were replaced by toys. Kids spend all day in front of the screen watching Youtube, playing Fortnite, etc. Parents are assured that the little ones are safe in their room away from the big scary world. But at what cost?

Friends who study at the university now tell me that about a quarter of their students have mental problems. Rates of anxiety and depression are reaching the surface. every other day There is a post on Northern Ireland Reddit From people who feel lonely and cannot make friends or find partners.

The theory goes like this. For modern children, every minute of their day is regulated. School, organized activities, play dates, screen time, etc. – they call it helicopter parenting and wrap-up parenting: we pave them the path of life lest they face any adversity. Everything is controlled by adults or by the presence of adults. Most are paid to and from school. They are told what to do in exams, and are guided through coursework. Modern children have very little independence, and everything is controlled for them. So when they get to university and they are expected to arrange their own accommodation, prepare their own food, make new friends, do their own research, etc., a high percentage of them fall apart.

We taught our children helplessness they learned. Now I can confirm that this is not all children. Modern youth are now very sane. You might argue that they are very reasonable And you need a little more cold. They drink less and have less sex than previous generations. The satirist could argue that these behaviors are a side effect of mental health issues.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the courts over the past six years and it’s great from a social perspective. There is a playground near where I live in a working class area and it is almost always empty even though there are two elementary schools within 1/4 mile of it. In contrast, stadiums are crowded in middle-class areas. I don’t have an answer as to why that is and would appreciate suggestions. The best I can come up with is that middle-class parents might focus more on playing.

The stadiums are also where you see inequality up close. In middle-class areas, children are taller, thinner, and have better teeth She is more fit. In working-class playgrounds, kids seem less healthy. You can easily predict who will develop type 2 diabetes by taking a quick look around the playing field.

The element of inequality is important. Middle classes can afford activities, summer camps, etc. Working class children do not have the same opportunities.

research From Scotland Shows that about a third of Scottish primary school children play outside regularly; Two-thirds of them did not have this habit at all. Also, the same research team discovered teenage boys Spend seven to eight hours a day using phones, computers and televisions, almost all of their free time. We are culturally similar to Scotland so I would imagine those numbers are similar in Northern Ireland.

So what do you do about the problem?

I think there are several things we can do. On a personal level, parents need to understand how important free play is. I know the modern world is stressful and it’s really easy to let your kids get a lot of screen time but we have to realize that there is a cost to that.

There are positives on the Internet. Things like Minecraft can be very creative, but I think we can agree on spending a lot of screen time for any of us, adults included, which isn’t healthy.

On a societal level, I think we need more free play in schools. My son finishes school at 2:15 pm. Why can’t they play for free after school for 45 minutes? This will need additional funding but I think it will be money well spent.

I also think we should make more use of the schools on weekends and holidays because they have the facilities. I am not suggesting additional work for teachers. Free play can be supervised by classroom assistants, student teachers, or youth workers.

Instead of just complaining about the problem last year, I created a Facebook group called Free domain kids in Belfast. The idea was to arrange free casual game get-togethers. To be honest, I haven’t given her much attention so she’s not very active yet, but if you’re a parent and agree with my views, join the group to give me an incentive to start this year.

Mental health is a complex area. There are other factors such as the rise in the number of smartphones and social media. But I don’t think enough is focused on playing. All the focus and money is on mental health treatment but very little of it goes to prevention. Improving access to play will probably be the cheapest and most direct way to improve the mental health of children and adults in the future.