REPORT STRESSES PLAY FOR HEALTHY DEVELOPMENT
Hurried lifestyle and heavy academic, extracurricular load taking toll; balance
new report from the
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says free and unstructured play is healthy
and - in fact - essential for helping children reach important social, emotional,
and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress
and become resilient.
Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong
Parent-Child Bonds," is written in defense of play and in response
to forces threatening free play and unscheduled time. These forces include changes
in family structure, the increasingly competitive college admissions process,
and federal education policies that have led to reduced recess and physical
education in many schools.
Whereas play protects children's
emotional development, a loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle
can be a source of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to depression for
many children, the AAP report states.
The report reaffirms that
the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare children for
success come not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm
grounding in parental love, role modeling and guidance.
Still, many parents are
afraid to slow their pace for fear their children will fall behind. They feel
like they are running on a treadmill, but worry they will not be acting as proper
parents if they do not participate in a hurried lifestyle.
The report suggests that
reduced time for physical activity may be contributing to the academic differences
between boys and girls, as schools with sedentary learning styles become more
difficult settings for some boys to navigate successfully.
Among the specific guidelines,
the report suggests:
- Emphasizing the benefits
of "true toys", such as blocks and dolls, in which children use
their imagination fully over passive toys that require limited imagination;
- Supporting an appropriately
challenging academic schedule for each child with a balance of extracurricular
activities. This should be based on each child's unique needs and not on competitive
community standards or need to gain college admissions;
- Helping parents evaluate
claims by marketers and advertisers about products or interventions designed
to produce "super-children;"
- Encouraging parents to
understand that each young person does not need to excel in multiple areas
to be considered successful or prepared to compete in the real world;
- Suggesting families choose
childcare and early education programs that meet children's social and emotional
developmental needs as well as academic preparedness.
The report recognizes that
academic enrichment opportunities are vital for some children's ability to succeed
academically, and that participation in organized activities promotes healthy
"The challenge for
society, schools, and parents is to strike the balance that allows all children
to reach their potential, without pushing them beyond their personal comfort
limits, and while allowing them personal free time," the report states.
To help parents and teens
develop resiliency and understand the role of stress in life, the AAP has created
a Resiliency Web site.. This site features additional information on stress
reduction and coping skills, as well as a stress management plan teens can personalize
to fit their personalities and lifestyles. Visit www.aap.org/stress
for more information.