by on December 30, 2017

in Uncategorized

Plato once observed that “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

For many parents and social psychologists, the importance of families deliberately making the time to play seems logical and obvious, and yet, in an era where technology has become so dominant in our daily routines, play is not automatic anymore. Many parents struggle to structure deliberate playtime into their children’s lives.

Parents themselves often live lives where play becomes an after-thought because of time constraints. Even when they are not over-committed, some parents are simply trying to juggle all the balls given to them by our modern culture. They forgot the words of Brain Sutton-Smith who observed that “The opposite of play is not work; it is depression.”

Play is essential in the development of natural resiliency in the lives of children as they learn to cooperate, overcome challenges and negotiate with others.

Additional benefits of play are: The development of creativity; the opportunity to use ones imagination; bonding time between a parent and child; healthy brain development; an increased capacity to store information; the development of social and emotional ties; the opportunity for less verbal children to express their needs; an opportunity for both the parent and child to be more fully present rather than multi-tasking; the crafting of leadership skills and the development of new competencies.

In January 2012 the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) released a position paper on this important topic. The paper reminded us of the relevance of play in the social, emotional and cognitive development of a child.

At a conference organized by the AAP a while back I learned a new term—NDD. Many of us are familiar with the terminology ADHD, but few people can explain the term NDD. In a thought provoking book “Last Child in the Woods”, author Richard Louv describes in detail how too many children suffer from what he calls “Nature Deficit Disorder.” More and more children rarely get to play outside. I heard Louv give a keynote address at an AAP meeting and he deservedly received a very long standing ovation.

The science of play was brought to my own attention recently when I listened to a NPR podcast. The podcast referred to a TED talk where an expert on the topic of play, and the director of the National Institute of Play, explained how society may pay the price when a child is deprived of play time.

In this particular talk, the guest and a social psychologist explained how some violent crimes and mass shootings (like the massacre of students on the Austen campus where a record number of students were murdered) can be attributed to humans who were deprived of playtime in their formative years.

But how sure can we be that play deprivation may be a leading indicator for mass murders? On their website ( The National Institute of Play posted a blog by an expert on the biology and neuroscience of play. In the blog the author admits that although animal studies clearly show a link between play deprivation and increased aggression, clinical findings in humans are not yet definitive. More research is needed.

Controversial as it may sound there are studies showing that in an era where video games are mostly vilified and seen as an obstacle to playing outdoors, that when a parent plays video games with a child, they actually are more likely to bond as a result of spending time together and sharing a common experience.

I mention this not to make excuses for the ever-increasing trend of families creating screenagers, but rather to underscore the principle of play time as shared time. Being outside is ideal and as reviewers of Richard Louv’s book observed, “Louv’s message has galvanized an international back-to-nature campaign. The book will change the way we think about our future and the future of children.”

Many pediatricians entered the career in order to help families develop more mentally resilient children. We talk about the importance of reading and early brain development; the importance of getting enough sleep, eating healthy and reducing toxic stress caused by lower socio economic conditions. But too few doctors remind families to make the time to play.

Families who have first-hand experiences of how play improved the quality of their lives have formed Facebook groups where ideas are exchanged and resources are shared. Non-profit groups such as the Institute of Play ( and The Right to Play( also provide useful resources for further study.

One of the pioneers in research on play is Dr. Stuart Brown. For more information on what we know about play—as it relates to both children and adults—I highly recommend his provocative Ted Talk which can be found at:


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