Bring Back Play: Childhood is Changing
Kids are growing up in a completely different world than we did—but what makes it so different? They have the same neighborhoods, the same backyards, school activities, and friends. But they also have technology that exceeds our wildest playtime imaginings from back in the day. No, they don’t have personal rocket ships, but they do have a magic portal that shows them anything they want to see, manufactures canned fun, and entrances them for hours on end. And often, they have more than one of these magic devices to choose from whenever they get bored.
Kids are staying in more
The average household has 15 tech devices; 10 with screens—that’s 3.7 devices and 2.4 screens per person¹. Screen time presents a challenge that our parents only got a small taste of during Saturday morning cartoons. Now our kids not only have cartoons, but also video games, apps, and cameras on-demand—all day every day. That’s a lot of temptation for a kid, and a lot of responsibility for a caregiver to regulate.
Between the wide availability of screens in our homes and their inherent brand of “fun,” it’s not surprising that kids are spending more time on screens and less time outdoors than their parents did in their own childhoods. While 73 percent of us fondly remember having played outdoor games with friends, like Four Square, Tag, and Capture the Flag, only 60 percent of our 6-11 year-olds enjoy those same activities today. And only 1 in 10 (9 percent) of our kids consider outdoor play their favorite activity¹.
So why is that important? Should kids play outside?
According to the CDC, it’s essential. The CDC recommends at least an hour per day of physical activity for kids², and active free play does wonders for kids growing minds as well as their muscles. And while screens may feel fun, they often don’t provide that same cognitive or physical boost.
Video games are replacing other forms of play
Through screens, kids are receiving a dangerously versatile form of entertainment. Though many of our younger kids don’t have access to smartphones yet and watch about the same amount of TV as we did in our youth, video games have taken the place of many outdoor activities for them. Only 36 percent of us remember playing video games when we were growing up—but 65 percent of our 6-11 year-olds play video games at least weekly today. And video games are the number one preferred activity among our children.¹
“Our children have more and more friends who use video games and phones and won’t interact without those.” -Survey Respondent
Let’s not forget that video games themselves have drastically changed since our childhood. They’ve gotten more connected and more addictive, with internet-connected servers, superior graphics, and in-game purchases targeted at children. Video games have also arguably become more social—the difference being that kids today can talk and play with their friends and with strangers from a distance rather than on the couch together. That easy access to distance communication can prevent real playdates from occurring, becoming a child’s preferred form of social interaction.
Are video games bad for kids?
Like many things, video games themselves aren’t bad in moderation, but the way they’re used can be. Internet gaming disorder was recently added to the DSM V as a behavioral addiction³. And while many children that play games do not have a video game addiction, screen time is still an issue for their eyes and muscles. Screen time hours add up, and that’s worth paying attention to—especially if it is affecting their bedtime, their exercise, and the time they have for other kinds of free play.
Kids aren’t as independent as they used to be
This glowing glass web that’s encircling our children doesn’t just affect their Vitamin D levels, their physical fitness, and their social lives. 42 percent of parents agree that our kids today have less independence than we did when we were growing up, and even more of us, at 51 percent, believe our kids are less imaginative than we were when we were growing up.¹ And it’s not hard to see why.
“If we turn off their idiot boxes, they have no clue what to do with themselves and they hassle us to entertain them… we can’t get anything done or have any free time for ourselves.” -Survey Respondent
Kids have playtime options today that require less effort, less imagination, and less active participation than we had, and it’s far easier to be passively entertained than to take the initiative to create your own fun. When playtime has pre-set rules like in a video game or an app, or even the one unwritten rule of TV—sit and watch—kids aren’t challenged to think, to stretch their creative muscles, or to even try beating boredom without a technological crutch.
But what other choices do our children have?
With so many screens in our homes, can we expect a child who is still developing his or her self-control to make the independent choice to put down the easy entertainment option and create challenges for themselves? Maybe they could if they had some attractive alternatives. But it’s hard to get creative or forge any sort of independence during childhood when you can’t roam your neighborhood, go to a friend’s house by yourself, or even play in the backyard.
“51 percent of us enjoyed playing in public parks unsupervised as kids… only 26 percent of our kids are allowed to do the same.¹”
Playing outside without direct parental supervision just isn’t as easy as it used to be when we were kids. When is it appropriate for a kid to stay home alone? Play outside alone? Far fewer parents believe their 11-year-olds are ready for either. Where 51 percent of us enjoyed playing in public parks unsupervised as kids, only 26 percent of our kids are allowed to do the same.¹ Even playing outside in their own front or backyard is harder—91 percent of us considered unsupervised yard play normal, and only 78 percent of our kids experience that same freedom.¹
Parents seem to be more unwilling to lets kids out of their sightline these days, and when they get busy, have errands to run, chores to do, or need a rest, kids’ playtime options are limited. So where we as children roamed free while our parents tidied up, cooked dinner, or took a well-deserved nap, our kids just can’t do that. And the vacuum left by this lack of free-roaming playtime has been filled by screens.
So what can parents and families do to help their kids maintain a healthy relationship with technology? In part 2, we talk about how choices parents make can affect their kids’ digital behavior.
- Nationally representative online survey of 1,403 U.S. parents of children aged 6-11 conducted by Republic Wireless; May 2018
- “How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 04, 2015. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm.
- Kuss, Daria J., Mark D. Griffiths, and Halley M. Pontes. “DSM-5 Diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder: Some Ways Forward in Overcoming Issues and Concerns in the Gaming Studies Field.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. June 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5520128/.
About The Study:
The Relay Bring Back Play Study was fielded online by Republic Wireless from April 27, 2018 to May 2, 2018 in partnership with Critical Mix, a global insights data provider and owner of consumer online survey panel, OneOpinion. A total of 1,403 parents of children aged 6-11 were interviewed across the US. The margin of sampling error for total respondents (N=1,403) is +2.6 percentage points.
About Critical Mix
Critical Mix creates insights that drive business decisions with easy, collaborative tools to access global target audiences, program engaging surveys and visualize results. Insights professionals around the world rely on Critical Mix’s simplified solutions to innovate and grow. Critical Mix is passionate about providing the best customer experience in the industry. Supporting every project with a dedicated, always-available team of professionals who anticipate needs and provide thoughtful customer care. The company operates globally with locations throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Call us at 1-800-651-8240 or email email@example.com.