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To Fight Depression, Kids Need to Run Around, UNSUPERVISED

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Read Time: 2 minutes

At last, it’s not just us saying this! A study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “Physical activity can help alleviate depressive symptoms in teens, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials.”

How much physical activity do the kids need?

“10 to 15 sessions of physical activity per month were linked to the greatest mental health benefits.”

What kind of activity are we talking about?

“Engaging in physical activity three times per week was linked with the greatest reduction in depressive symptoms, and the effect was greater when the physical activity was unsupervised than when it was fully or partially supervised in the studies.”

Who does it help the most?

Apparently, teens with a pre-existing diagnosis of depression.

The importance of NOT SUPERVISING all the time:

The authors did their analysis by consulting 21 studies involving 2441 participants. Their conclusion — not surprising, but worth hearing — is that “Physical activity interventions may be used to reduce depressive symptoms in children and adolescents.”

They also noted that some of their findings — including the idea that kids get the most out of UNSUPERVISED activity — need to be studied more.

Yes! Right now, so much of kids’ run-around time is directed by an adult, whether at recess, on a league, or with parents watching nearby. All those activities are fine, but as this study suggests they are different from doing something independently.

After all, the expression isn’t “Dance like someone’s watching.”

Imagine if someone was listening every time you sang in the shower. “Sounding great, dear! But I think you missed a verse.” You’d want to shove a loofah down their throat.

This is a type of FREE THERAPY. Why isn’t it more common?

Is there a way to get this incredibly low-cost “therapy” to lots and lots of young people a.s.a.p., considering the mental health crisis?

There is. You know we always recommend schools stay open for mixed-age, no-devices free play, with a Let Grow Play Club. (Free implementation guide here.) The adult(s) present have the lightest possible footprint. They do not organize the games or micro-manage. The kids are as close to unsupervised as our litigious culture allows.

And not only does this give kids a time and place to run around — they are also off their devices. Play Clubs are a No Phone Zone.

We recommend Play Clubs for elementary and middle schools, but if your high school starts one, send us stories!

Meantime, we also suggest finding other Let Grow-inclined families and having the kids run around outside together while you do something else, inside. (Feel free to visit Raising Independent Kids, our Facebook Group, and announce you’re looking for folks near you.)

This is a movement — actually, a movement-movement — whose time has not only come, it’s crucial: Kids are suffering and at least part of the solution is straightforward, free of cost, and, now, scientifically proven:

Let. Them. Play.

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