Part II- Decline of Play Upswing of Depression in Children

In our last post we discussed Peter Gray’s work on anxiety and depression in children and why play, the right kind of play matters. We continue with his work to look at how the learning environment and changes in parenting styles contribute to it.

How Coercive Schooling Deprives Young People of Personal Control, Directs Them Toward Extrinsic Goals, and Promotes Anxiety and Depression

Oko Laa/Shutterstock
Source: Oko Laa/Shutterstock

During the same half-century or more that free play has declined, school and school-like activities (such as lessons out of school and adult-directed sports) have risen continuously in prominence. Children today spend more hours per day, days per year, and years of their life in school than ever before. More weight is given to tests and grades than ever. Outside of school, children spend more time than ever in settings in which they are directed, protected, catered to, ranked, judged, and rewarded by adults. In all of these settings adults are in control, not children.

In school, children learn quickly that their own choices of activities and their own judgments of competence don’t count; what matters are the teachers’ choices and judgments. Teachers are not entirely predictable: You may study hard and still get a poor grade because you didn’t figure out exactly what the teacher wanted you to study or guess correctly what questions he or she would ask. The goal in class, in the minds of the great majority of students, is not competence but good grades. Given a choice between really learning a subject and getting an A, the great majority of students would, without hesitation, pick the latter. That is true at every stage in the educational process, at least up to the level of graduate school. That’s not the fault of students; that’s our fault. We’ve set it up that way. Our system of constant testing and evaluation in school—which becomes increasingly intense with every passing year—is a system that very clearly substitutes extrinsic rewards and goals for intrinsic ones. It is almost designed to produce anxiety and depression.[6]

It is time to rethink education and adult directed sports and afterschool “play”. [nextpagelink][/nextpagelink]

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