Summary: Increased childhood mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression may be linked to reduced opportunities to play, explore and engage in activities independent of the control and supervision of children. parents.
Anxiety and depression among school-aged children and adolescents in the United States is at an all-time high. Sadly, in 2021, child and youth mental health was declared a national emergency.
While a variety of causes are thought to contribute to this decline in mental health, a new study by three leading child development researchers points to independent “child’s play.”
The findings, published in the Journal of Pediatricssuggest that the increase in mental health disorders is attributed to a decline over the decades in opportunities for children and adolescents to play, move around, and engage in activities independent of the direct supervision and control of adults.
Although well-intentioned, adults’ drive to guide and protect children and adolescents has deprived them of the independence they need for their mental health, contributing to record levels of anxiety, depression and suicide among young people.
“Parents today are regularly subjected to messages about the dangers that could occur to unsupervised children and the value of good academic performance. But they hear little of the contrary messages that if children should grow up in being well-adjusted, they increasingly require opportunities for independent activity, including self-directed play and meaningful contributions to family and community life, which are signs that they are trusted, responsible and competent .
“They need to feel like they can effectively deal with the real world, not just the school world,” said David F. Bjorklund, Ph.D., co-author and professor in the Department of Psychology at Charles E from Florida Atlantic University. Schmidt College of Science.
The study also showed that children’s freedom to engage in activities that involve some degree of risk and personal responsibility away from adults has also diminished over the decades. Risky games, like climbing high in a tree, help protect children from developing phobias and reduce future anxiety by building confidence to deal with emergencies.
Among the many constraints impacting independent activity in children today identified in the study are the increased time they spend in school and on homework. Between 1950 and 2010, the average length of the school year in the United States increased by five weeks. Homework, which was once rare or non-existent in elementary school, is now common even in kindergarten.
Additionally, in 2014, the average time spent in recess (including any recess associated with the lunch period) for elementary schools was just 26.9 minutes per day, and some schools had no recess at all. .
“A major category of independent activity, especially for young children, is play,” Bjorklund said. “Research, as well as daily observation, indicates that play is a direct source of happiness for children.”
Researchers suggest that the increase in school time and the pressure to succeed over the decades may have impacted mental health not only by reducing time and opportunities for independent activities, but also because fear of scholastic failure or the fear of insufficient success is a direct source of distress. .
“Unlike other crises, such as the COVID epidemic, this decline in independent activity, and therefore the mental well-being of children, has crept on us gradually, over the decades, so many people barely noticed,” Bjorklund said.
“Furthermore, unlike other health crises, this one is not the result of a highly contagious virus, but rather the result of good intentions taken too far – intentions to protect children and provide what many believed to be better (interpreted as more) schooling, inside and outside of actual schools.
For the study, Bjorklund and co-authors Peter Gray, Ph.D., senior author and research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College; and David F. Lancy, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Utah State University, summarize the steep decline over the decades in independent activity opportunities for children; a sharp decline over the same decades in the mental health of young people; effects of independent activity on children’s happiness; and the effects of independent activity in building long-term psychological resilience.
The article concludes by noting that concern for the safety of children and the value of adult guidance must be tempered by the recognition that, as children grow, they need more and more opportunities to manage their own activities independently. The article suggests ways in which this can be accomplished in today’s world and ways in which paediatricians, family physicians and public policy makers can help promote such change.
About this neurodevelopment and mental health research news
Author: Gisele Galoustian
Contact: Gisele Galoustian – FAU
Picture: Image is in public domain
Original research: Access closed.
“Declining Independent Activity as a Cause of Declining Mental Well-Being in Children: Evidence Summary” by David F. Bjorklund et al. Journal of Pediatrics
Declining independent activity as a cause of declining mental well-being in children: evidence summary
It’s no secret that rates of anxiety and depression among school-aged children and adolescents in the United States are at an all-time high. Recognizing this, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Association of Children’s Hospitals issued a joint statement to the Biden administration in 2021 that the mental health of children and adolescents should be declared a “national emergency”.