The importance of play time

Researchers investigate the decline of free play and its effects on children.

Ians September 02, 2011


Overprotective parents who do not allow their children to play freely could be doing more harm than good to them, experts have warned.

Parents who restrict unstructured play can increase the risk of depression in their children, who may even develop suicidal tendencies.

Such parents — branded as ‘hovering helicopters’ by researchers — prevent their children from playing outside, where they might build dens, climb trees or explore the countryside.

The American Journal of Play asked a group of experts to investigate the near-extinction of free play and its effects on children and society. They said that without free outdoor play, children are prone to obesity, poor physical health and are unable to develop social skills.

Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, says, “Over the last 50 years opportunities for children to play freely have declined dramatically in the US and other developed nations. That decline continues with serious negative consequences for children’s physical, mental, and social development.”

While calling for the restoration of free play, Gray says there is a clear correlation between its decline and the rise of depression, suicide and narcissism among children. He also recommends mixed-age play, stating it is also beneficial. Older children were able to teach younger ones new skills, while also learning themselves, he adds. 

Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2011.