Here’s a chunk of my piece that just ran on Politico. After explaining that I’m the mom who let her 9 year old ride the subway alone, yada yada, and that our society overestimates danger and underestimates kids (also yada yada), I went on to say that keeping our kids constantly supervised is —
…catastrophic. Free play turns out to be one of the most important things a kid can do to develop into the kind of adult who’s resilient, entrepreneurial—and a pleasure to be around.
You see, when kids play on their own, they first of all have to come up with something to do. That’s called problem solving: “We don’t have a ball, so what can we play?” They take matters into their own hands. Then, if they don’t all agree, they have to learn to compromise—another good skill to have.
If there are a bunch of kids, someone has to make the teams. Leadership! If there’s a little kid, the big kids have to throw the ball more gently. Empathy! For their part, the little kids want to earn the big kids’ respect. So they act more mature, which is how they become more mature. They rise to the occasion. Responsibility!
And here’s the most important lesson that kids who are “just” playing learn. Say a kid strikes out. Now he has a choice. He can throw a tantrum—and look like a baby. He can storm off—and not get to play anymore. Or he can hold it together, however hard that is, and go to the back of the line.
Because play is so fun, a kid will usually choose the latter. And in doing that difficult deed—taking his lumps—the child is learning to control himself even when things are not going his way. The term for this is “executive function.”
It’s the crucial skill all parents want their kids to learn, and the easiest way to learn it is through play. In fact, Penny Wilson, a thought leader on play in Britain, calls fun the “orgasm” of play. Kids play because it’s fun—not realizing that really they are actually ensuring the success of the species by learning how to function as a society….
Can you imagine a country full of people who have been listening to Mozart since they were in the womb, but have no idea how to organize a neighborhood ballgame? My friend was recently telling a high school-age cousin about how he used to play pick-up basketball in the park, and the cousin couldn’t understand how this was possible without supervision. “What happened if someone decided to cheat and fouled all the time?” the kid asked. “We just wouldn’t play with him anymore,” my friend replied. Said the cousin: “That’s exclusion!” which, he added, was a “form of” bullying.
Agghh! We are crippling kids by convincing them they can’t solve any issues on their own.
You can read the rest here!