Kim Brooks, author of the absorbing, enraging book, "Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear," which just came out in paperback, has another scorcher of a piece in the New York Times today. It is bluntly titled, "We Have Ruined Childhood."
Her main point-person is Dr. Peter Gray, author of "Free to Learn" and one of the four co-founders of Let Grow. Kim writes:
According to the psychologist Peter Gray, children today are more depressed than they were during the Great Depression and more anxious than they were at the height of the Cold War.... (B)etween 2009 and 2017, rates of depression rose by more than 60 percent among those ages 14 to 17, and 47 percent among those ages 12 to 13.... The number of children and teenagers who were seen in emergency rooms with suicidal thoughts or having attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2015.
To put it simply, our kids are not O.K.
Why not? Kim sees a connection between the decline in free time and the increase in sadness. For this she blames the economic pressures forcing parents to work long hours, as well as a society that has decided childhood isn't important except as a stepping stone to college:
School days are longer and more regimented. Kindergarten, which used to be focused on play, is now an academic training ground for the first grade. Young children are assigned homework even though numerous studies have found it harmful.
The antidote? Making free time and free play once again normal, legal and abundant:
The areas where children once congregated for unstructured, unsupervised play are now often off limits. And so those who can afford it drive their children from one structured activity to another. Those who can’t, keep them inside. Free play and childhood independence have become relics, insurance risks, at times criminal offenses.
We're on the case! Let Grow is working to make sure more states pass bills like Utah's Free-Range Parenting Law that says giving kids kids some independence is NOT neglect. We also have (free of charge) guidelines and materials for schools that would like to start a before or after school Let Grow Play Club that Kim writes about:
Let Grow, helps schools set up unstructured free play before and after the school day.
Dr. Gray told me it’s no surprise that the program, which he consults for, has been well received. “Children are willing to get up an hour early to have free play, one hour a week,” he said. “It’s like a drop of water if you’ve been in the desert.”
We also recommend schools, families, congregations and neighborhoods consider Free Time Fridays -- keeping Friday afternoons free from organized activities so kids are available to play with other kids.
Giving kids back some freedom isn't hard, once we decide it's a priority -- which it is!
Teachers and schools interested in starting a Let Grow Play Cub can write to us at Info@LetGrow.org. And if you have carved out more free play/free time for your kids, please share your story!