The Power of Doing Nothing: Why Unstructured Free Play Time is Important

As a parent of 12- and 15-year old boys, I am used to the eye roll when I start my conversations, “When I was your age…” Times have changed, and as much as I wish we could return to the “old days,” I know it is not a reality. So much free time is spent on the internet, and in particular social media. These platforms were not around when I was young, and they have changed the landscape for all of us, especially for young people. Communicating with friends is VERY important to pre-teens and teens today, and they will choose social media for this. So, when we talk about being resilient, we can see that free time takes on new meaning in the face of navigating relationships built on Snapchat, Instagram and more.

A Free Tool I’d like to propose a new revolutionary tool called “doing nothing”. Don’t we always feel better when our lives are NOT planned to the minute or dictated by how someone reacts to our post? While this may cause another, collective, eye roll from everyone, I believe that unstructured down time would be healthy for all of us. I personally feel stressed-out when I have too much on my calendar, and feel wonderfully relaxed when I replace some of those “commitments” with do nothing time. Listening fully to our kids, playing something they are interested in, watching a good movie together (and so on) are just a few of the many things we can do to maintain sanity. Why don’t we all just stop everything and PLAY?

From the research In her article, The Loss of Play and Rise of Anxiety and Depression, author Esther Entin recites recent increases in suicide rates, and offers that free play could address some of the root causes of anxiety and depression among youth (The Atlantic, October 12, 2011). Parents need to “reassess the priorities ruling their children’s lives. The competing needs for childcare, academic and athletic success, and children’s safety are compelling. But perhaps parents can begin to identify small changes — such as openings in the schedule, backing off from quite so many supervised activities, and possibly slightly less hovering on the playground.” All of this would start the pendulum returning to the direction of free, imaginative, kid-directed play.” 

Give it a Go! This news is hard to face, but face it we must. What can we do? How do we go about it, for all ages? Friends, let’s just give it a go! Let’s take some time to play! Let’s take some time to sit quietly! I promise you, our anxiety and depression will fade. I feel better just thinking about it! Atlantic article is here: Thanks for reading, and here’s to happy, joyous and free play!

~ Tim Ryan, Family Support Specialist, Encompass NW

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