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Study: Childhood play (and chores!) may prevent depression


It's 9 o'clock on a Saturday...the regular crowd shuffles in. 

By "9 o'clock", I mean a.m., and by "regular crowd" I mean moms and dads holding chipper Starbucks coffees and four year olds wearing shirts that go down to their knees with socks that almost reach their shirts. You've probably figured out by now that by "in" I mean "onto the soccer field."

Soccer is probably the most widely used example illustrating the over-scheduling of children. In the olden days, these kids would've been getting ready to go outside to play with friends or do chores.  I was one of the latter.

While I'm not really old enough to use the "olden days" to refer to my own childhood,  a new study suggests that the over-scheduling of kids in my generation and future generations could be having a detrimental effect on mental health, so I feel somewhat qualified to speak on the subject.

You see, I was jealous of my classmates who played soccer, took ballet lessons, went to summer camp and practiced piano. My friend across the street -- who had a similar lack of scheduledness -- and I were reduced to "borrowing" neighbors' flowers, "borrowing" mom's perfume and creating makeshift potpourri. I then sold it back to my neighbors and mom in its new form.  (Amazingly, the police didn't come after me for not having a business license in those days.) 

But according to this study, we may have the last laugh. As reported by Discovery News, researcher Peter Gray has found a correlation between less time spent in unscheduled, outdoor play since the 1950s and an increase in anxiety and depression among the more scheduled variety of children and teens:

Parents' careful planning of kids' activities may account for why 85 percent of children today report higher levels of depression and anxiety than their same-aged counterparts did in the 1950s. Youth simply aren't reaping the benefits of play, which may negatively affect their adult life, Gray argues.

Most restrictions on when and where children play fall in the hands of parents, many of whom cite crime, risk of abduction or molestation, and even car traffic as reasons to limit outdoor play, according to another study. But other work shows that random violence against children has decreased since the 1990s in the United States.

This subject, published in two different qualitative reviews in the American Journal of Play, isn't exactly new. It seems to be more of a confirmation.

So, thanks Mom and Dad for letting me play -- and for making me do chores, which I'll have more to say on once there's a study on the benefits of that.

h/t Gizmodo

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