What is a Childhood?

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PHOTO 2016 BY Markus Spiske raumrot.com (CC0)

In Peter Gray’s TEDx talk, he focuses on defining play and the effects of play declining in recent years. One quote that really captured my attention was, “Play is nature’s means of ensuring that young mammals, including young human beings, acquire the skills that they need to acquire to develop successfully into adulthood.” However, play is thought of today as a waste of time. There seems to be a very competitive environment today in schools. For example, at my school, many students take up a sport, join club boards, and take AP classes, all while balancing a decent amount of sleep. There’s no time for play when all of these activities are for the purpose of standing out on college applications. What really freaked me out was when I realized that I myself was pushing this same pressure onto my own little sister. A bright 9 year old girl, my sister loves to spend her free time on the computer or iPad, playing Minecraft or Roblox. She could spend hours on end playing PC games, and she wouldn’t even be tired. What irked me was how much free time she had. I found myself suggesting to my mom to have Lily start playing a sport or take up a hobby that could translate into looking unique on her future college applications. Was I green with envy? Was I so irritated by the free time that my sister had, but I never did?

A common phrase you’ll hear today from teens is, “What is adulting?” The sheer amount of activities that are typical of teens today have overwhelmed us so much, that we begin to stress out thinking about the future. We never learned about paying taxes, paying off a mortgage, or stocking our refrigerator weekly. Everything just seems to be “+1 more thing” to do. According to Peter Gray, there has been an increase in the suicide rate, anxiety, and depression. There seems to be an indirect correlation between this increase and the decline in play. So where is play? Where is our childhood?

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