The mental health benefits of free play

This article in Quartz reports on some troubling numbers on depression in kids. The author, Jenny Anderson, talks to Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, about the dramatic rise in the occurrence of depression and has other experts weigh in on whether a lack of free play has anything to do with it.

She quotes Peter Gray, a psychologist and professor at Boston College, who wrote:

My hypothesis is that the generational increases in externality, extrinsic goals, anxiety, and depression are all caused largely by the decline, over that same period, in opportunities for free play and the increased time and weight given to schooling.

Free play, in early years environments and at home, is being increasingly recognized as important for many aspects of a child’s growth and development.

The article emphasizes some crucial steps parents can take:

  1. Make time for kids to experience daily free play without the direction or interference of adults.
  2. Allow kids to make their own mistakes without rushing in to rescue them.
  3. Encourage a growth mindset and stop focusing so much on achievements rather than process.

And, it ends by saying:

Like many things in life, intentionality is key. If we want our kids to play and have some freedom, we have to plan how to do it (yes, it has come to that). Facilitating time and space has to be a pre-meditated act, like signing up for soccer, or posting your daughter’s Girl Scout cookie sales target on Facebook. It won’t be easy. But if we believe that our kids’ mental health is at stake, we should certainly give it a try.

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