Even Canada Thinks the Nanny State Has Gone Too Far on Outlawing Fun
Kids need to climb trees, jump off things, and ride their bikes—even at speed. That’s what the Canadian Pediatric Society is recommending in a new white paper: Healthy Childhood Development Through Outdoor Risky Play.
It’s the sort of finding that is almost considered radical these days. Mariana Brussoni, a developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia, has been championing risky play for more than a decade, but the Pediatric Society wasn’t ready to endorse her call to action.
It was only when faced with soaring rates of childhood anxiety, depression, obesity, and even myopia that Canadian health officials realized that “letting kids go out and play could be a way to deal with a lot of these challenging issues,” says Brussoni.
That’s because the doctors came to recognize two truths.
First, children are hard-wired to play because it aids their development. It teaches them how to take action, get along, and solve problems.
Second, replacing rollicking, kid-led play with structured, adult-led play was a mistake. It deprived children of a million opportunities to exercise their autonomy. It also increased their risk of physical danger.
When kids play without adult supervision, they hone their social and emotional coping skills, according to the report. What’s more, free play can “significantly reduce children’s risk for elevated anxiety.”
Play does that in a rather obvious way, says Peter Gray, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Boston College and a co-founder with me of Let Grow.
“From an evolutionary standpoint, why do children want to play in a risky way?” asks Gray. “Because this is how they develop a little courage. They deliberately put themselves into situations where they’re feeling fear so that, unconsciously, they can have a sense of control over it: ‘I can feel this fear and survive it.’ So when they face a real emergency, they are slightly less likely to panic. They are also less fearful because they know, ‘Something can happen, and I can manage it.'”
The Canadian report recommends pediatricians promote risky play as p
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