Mourning the Loss of Play

"Pick it up and run it" was the official name of the game.  Down at the Field at the end of my street or at the playground of York school a few blocks away, we would gather.  Vince, Derek, Marcel, Gary, Todd, John, Paul, Charles, and whoever else we could get.  It was a simple game.  You throw the football up in the air, and someone catches and runs.  Everyone else had a simple mission: Tackle the ball carrier.  There were no official rules or an official league.  Parents knew of the game but did not attend, officiate, or in anyway influence the character of the game.  We simply played and loved it.

Today, I mourn the loss of play in our children.  For a myriad of reasons, children no longer are given the creativity to innovate, experiment, and play with other children.  Children no longer go out and form pick-up basketball games, but join carefully orchestrated parent dominated basketball leagues.  Softball and baseball is no longer a game for fun among elementary school students, but a competitive situation where parents insist on developing their 8 year olds into the next Derek Jeter.  Those leagues are not fun, but they are increasingly efficient.

The loss of spontaneous, children to children play has had some devastating effects on our children.  I see it every day as a pediatrician, parent, and pastor.

1. Children no longer have conflict resolution skills.  Unsupervised play caused children to deal with conflict, without the intervention of parents.  If someone was cheating or being inappropriate, it had to be dealt with as a group.  No one ran home to ask our parents to "make Tim play right".  Today's young adults do not learn conflict resolution because all of the conflict that normally results in healthy play, is being modulated by the parents.

2. Children no longer create entertainment, but require to be entertained.  In spontaneous, unsupervised play, children are encouraged to make up games with often few resources.  Pick-it-up-and-run-it is a great example of this.  When I worked at a Salvation Army summer camp, on a beautiful camp ground with water activities, sports activities, hiking and exploring, the kids would be given free time and respond "I'm bored" or "do you have any video games".  They were completely unable to create excitement, but were already the ultimate consumers, expecting the staff to entertain them.

3. Children lose the wonder of childhood far too early.   I have met children who are playing two musical instruments, three sports, and receive additional tutoring for school, all while in elementary school.  The hectic activity is pushed by well meaning parents who simply want the child to succeed.  However, when playing games is about getting a scholarship, and playing an instrument is about preparing a resume instead of just playing and enjoyment, it steals the joy and the wonder of childhood. 

Many may say, that its no longer safe for neighborhood based, unsupervised play.  I definitely understand that for some neighborhoods which are crime ridden, or simply lack safe common areas.  Fortunately, many urban areas now have accessible community centers.  However, most neighborhoods do have space and relative safety that allows play.  I am speaking of age appropriate play and not suggesting that you allow your 5 yr old with wander the streets searching for a playmate.  Allowing your 5 yr old to go with other 5 yr olds to a local playground where you are present, but not initiating or organizing the play is appropriate.

Lets take back childhood!  Let encourage real play so that we have healthier, better adjusted young adults who are equipped for conflict resolution and are capable of creativity and innovation.

May God bless  you,

Pastor M Traylor