The XX Factor

Bring Back Play!

Oh, how I agree with the story in the New York Times yesterday about the need to restore play to the lives of our children. There is always a danger in romanticizing the highlights of one’s youth, but some of my happiest times were getting together with my siblings and cousins at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother let us take over the living room, turning her couch pillows into forts, draping everything with sheets, and getting so manically “worked up” with our games that my grandmother would eventually come in and apply cold washcloths to our overheated faces.  I remember groups of boys after school organizing unsupervised neighborhood-wide games of war-we girls followed them, hiding in the bushes, wary of becoming collateral damage.

This kind of child-directed mayhem has been almost entirely missing from my daughter’s life. When she was little I thought it would occur naturally-kids would just get together and play forts or dress up for hours. But everyone, from the earliest ages, was tied up in lessons or leagues, carefully supervised by adults, where they perfected skills (soccer, piano, tennis) that might give them an advantage on their college applications. The other day I was in a restaurant and the two-year old at the next table started getting restive and her mother, who had no bag of books or crayons or paper, handed the girl her iPhone and the child was immediately quieted and absorbed. I have no qualms with using whatever works in the moment, but it did seem emblematic to me of the replacement of manufactured screens for imagination. (A concern KJ raises .) Part of me is sure these tech-savvy, rules-skilled kids will be just fine. But I feel regret for my daughter, and I can’t help but believe that for this generation something crucial has been lost.