Hovering helicopter parents who restrict their kids' unstructured play may actually harm, rather than help, children according to the latest issue of the American Journal of Play, a scholarly journal which has gathered a distinguished group of experts to probe the near-extinction of free play and its effects on children and society.
"Remarkably, over the last 50 years, opportunities for children to play freely have declined continuously and dramatically in the United States and other developed nations; and that decline continues, with serious negative consequences for children's physical, mental, and social development," said Guest Editor Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College. "This special issue of the American Journal of Play reviews the evidence for the crucial roles of play in children's development and proposes ways we may create a world in which play-especially free outdoor play with other children-is once again a normative part of childhood."
Included in this issue are two articles by Gray, one presenting research that shows a correlation between the decline of free play and the rise of depression, suicide and narcissism in children and teens, and the other highlighting the importance of age-mixed play.
"The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adults": Gray presents a review of research showing a correlation between the decline of free play in developed nations and the rise of depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism in children, teens, and young adults.
"The Special Value of Children's Age-Mixed Play" : Gray notes that the modern segregation of kids into same-age groups, common in today's classrooms and school yards, may not be optimal for child development. He says that during age-mixed play, older, more skilled participants "provide scaffolds that raise the level of the younger participants' play" and stretch their abilities to higher levels. He cites other studies in which older children were observed exposing younger children to more complex concepts of literacy, math, and sociability. By interacting with younger children, older students develop increased capacities to nurture, lead, and learn by teaching.
Other highlights in the journal are: