Play essential for child development

By Jeff Linville - [email protected]

Jeff Linville News Editor

I read a magazine article over the weekend that echoed some of my own thoughts on the importance of play for children.

Childhood obesity is a real issue in this country, and Type 2 diabetes could turn into a bigger problem as these kids become even more out of shape when their metabolism slows down in adulthood.

With electronic devices like smart phones, tablets, computers and video game systems, kids would rather stay inside than get fresh air. They would rather play Madden football than catch a real one.

One day when my child was still in grade school instead of college, I was trying to urge my couch potato to get outside and play.

“What’s the big deal about playing outside?” she asked.

I thought for several seconds and replied, “Because sports and other outdoor activities will produce more ‘wow’ moments than all the rest of your life.”

I went on to say that physical activity is where we can amaze ourselves, accomplishing things we never knew were possible. I talked about the exhilaration of making my first head-first dive into a pool, my first successful dirt bike ride up this steep hill, striking out the side in Little League baseball, and taking down two much bigger opponents at the same time in pugil stick fighting during basic training.

But, that’s just the stuff that kept me going back. There’s so much more we get out of physical pursuits. What about the necessity of failure?

There is a line from the Dark Knight trilogies spoken by Michael Caine as the wise old butler, Alfred.

“Why do we fall, Master Wayne?” he asks. When Bruce doesn’t answer, Alfred does for him. “Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

I spent much of my childhood with a cousin nearly two years older. I couldn’t compare in any sport or riding bikes. Sitting down and crying about it wouldn’t have helped, so I grew determined. I practiced hard on my own and never complained when I lost. I learned to be resilient.

On the other hand, I had cousins one year and three years younger who looked up to me. I couldn’t play as hard with them. I learned to toss the softball easier, play softer on defense in football and basketball. If I embarrassed them, they would pout and not play anymore. I wanted to keep playing, so I learned to take their feelings into consideration. I learned empathy.

When groups of us wanted to play, sometimes we argued over rules or argued over officiating (“That was NOT a foul ball!”) If we wanted to get some game time in before our parents called us home, we had to hurry up and come to an agreement. We learned to compromise. We learned teamwork. Sometimes we made up our own rules and learned to think outside the box. We learned to be better leaders, to be involved in participatory democracy.

If one team was too powerful, it wasn’t as much fun to win or to lose, so we learned to be fair and equal.

When kids today have time for recreation, it’s almost always structured and regulated by adults. Teachers tell children what they will do, or it’s the coaches for all the many youth leagues in which children enroll.

The kids are busy either playing games for a school team, playing for a travel team like AAU, practicing for both teams or taking part in another activity like music lessons or martial arts.

I think some parents overschedule their kids.

“Well if I don’t, they’ll get bored.”

So? Necessity is the mother of invention. When a child is bored, the imagination can be called upon to create something more interesting. If we never give children enough free time to become bored, how will they find the motivation to mine their creative depths?

As for that article that got these thoughts flowing again, the cover story for the upcoming December issue of Reason magazine is called “The Fragile Generation.” The article is already live on the website.

One passage states: “Children largely lost the experience of having large swaths of unsupervised time to play, explore and resolve conflicts on their own. This has left them more fragile, more easily offended, and more reliant on others. They have been taught to seek authority figures to solve their problems and shield them from discomfort, a condition sociologists call ‘moral dependency.’”

We look at some of the attitudes coming out of colleges and universities and wonder what the heck is going on with our kids. Why are young adults so hypersensitive they need protection from everything?

“It no longer matters what a person intended to say, or how a reasonable listener would interpret a statement — what matters is whether any individual feels offended by it. If so, the speaker has committed a ‘microaggression,’ and the offended party’s purely subjective reaction is a sufficient basis for emailing a dean or filing a complaint with the university’s ‘bias response team.’ The net effect is that both professors and students today report that they are walking on eggshells.”

We’re seeing now what happens when these overprotected kids become young adults. What happens when we get older and these same formerly protected kids become the decision-makers in this country?

The article suggests that even the Bill of Rights protection for free speech could be repealed because these people are so lacking in interpersonal relationship skills that words can hurt too badly.

It’s easy to say that I’m overexaggerating — that something as simple a children’s recess can’t be so important. And that is true, but it shows a pattern of micromanaging by helicopter parents that does as much harm as good.

Jeff Linville News Editor Linville News Editor

By Jeff Linville

[email protected]

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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