Tomorrow, Dr. Peter Gray and I (Lenore) will join a team from the Let Grow-oriented town of Wilton to testify before a subcommittee of the Connecticut State Legislature on behalf of Free-Range Parenting/Let Grow legislation. Here is Dr. Gray's testimony (boldface mine). If your state or town is considering a similar law or proclamation, here is our policy info packet. - L
Testimony of Peter Gray
Research Professor of Psychology, Boston College
In support of
S.B. No. 806 AN ACT PROHIBITING A FINDING OF NEGLECT IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES.
Committee on Children – Public Hearing, February 14, 2019
Dear Senator Abrams, Representative Linehan, Senator Kelly, Representative Green, and Members of the Committee on Children:
My name is Peter Gray. I am a resident of Millis, MA, and a research professor of developmental psychology at Boston College. I write to you now in support of Raised Senate Bill 806 - An Act Prohibiting a Finding of Neglect in Certain Circumstances.
My research focuses on the developmental value of children’s free play. In my book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, and in various academic articles, I have described and documented the ways by which free outdoor play promotes children’s social, emotional, and intellectual development as well as physical development. The research shows that children play more vigorously, more socially, more imaginatively, and for longer periods—and gain more--when they play with other children away from adult control or intervention than when adults are present. When children play independently of adults they learn how to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and enforce rules, negotiate differences, and maintain the peace and order necessary for the play to proceed. These are extraordinarily important skills, which cannot be taught but can only be learned through experience, and the best experience for learning these skills comes from play with other children, away from adults.
Until very recent times, during all of human history with the exception of times of child slavery or intense child labor, children always spent enormous amounts of time playing and exploring with other children away from adults. Natural selection has endowed children with the drive for such play and adventure and with the capacity to develop valuable life skills through these means.
Over the past few decades, various shifts in our culture have worked against children’s freedom to occupy public spaces and play independently of adults. There has been an enormous decline in children’s freedom not just to play independently outdoors, but also to travel independently to school, friends’ homes, shops, and elsewhere. Even young teenagers today are regularly denied the freedoms that children as young as five or six years old enjoyed just a few decades ago. As a culture, we have developed the misguided assumptions that children are in great danger outdoors when not watched by adults and that children gain more when they are guided and controlled by adults than when they are free and must control themselves.
Over the same decades that children’s freedom has continuously declined, children’s mental health has also continuously declined. The best evidence for this comes from analyses of scores on clinical questionnaires that have been given in unchanged form to normative groups of young people over the decades. These data indicate, for example, that rates today of what are now called Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder among young people are roughly 8 times what they were several decades ago, when children were freer. Data from the CDC indicate that the suicide rate among school-aged children is now roughly six times what it was several decades ago. Still other research shows that children today have much less of a sense of control over their own lives—are more likely to consider themselves to be victims of fate or powerful other people and less likely to think they can solve their own problems—than was true in the past.
All of these indices of psychopathology have been rising steadily over the same period in which children’s freedom has been declining steadily. I present these data—and describe the reasons for inferring a strong causal link between the decline of freedom and rise of psychopathology--in my book Free to Learn and in an academic article entitled The Decline of Play and Rise of Psychopathology in Childhood and Adolescence, published in the American Journal of Play (Vol. 3, pp 443-463, 2011). The article can be found online here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/1195/ajp-decline-play-published.pdf
You can also see my TEDx talk on this issue here.
There are many impediments to children’s going outdoors to play and explore in our society today, but one of the most significant of them is parents’ fear that they (the parents) will be charged with neglect if their children are found outdoors unaccompanied by an adult. I have heard this from many parents. The parents tell me that they know how mature their children are and how safe the neighborhood is, but, because of fear of others’ judgments and possible legal action against them they do not allow their children the freedom that they know their children can handle and that they know would be best for their children’s development. I strongly support SB 806 because it will reduce this fear on the part of parents and thereby help restore the freedom that children need for their healthy development.
Thank you for your kind attention to this testimony.
Research Professor of Psychology at Boston College.