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Maybe it is time that we, as a society, took a step back and reconsider what constitutes child labor. According to the International Labor Organization, “Child labor refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.”
In the above quote, it is clear that a core value in a society regarding its children is to provide an education. What if, however, a child’s education becomes so time consuming that it deprives a child of his or her mental, physical, social and moral rights?
“What if a child’s education becomes so time consuming that it deprives a child of his or her mental, physical, social and moral rights?”
That is why the World Congress of Play has chosen as one of its missions to actively fight for a child’s right to free play. We believe that there is a crisis in play in which children are being deprived of the educational, emotional, physical and moral benefits derived from playing freely without adult supervision.
I did a little back of the envelope calculation of how many hours a 21st century an American child spends in some kind of adult supervised or mandated activity.
That number is of course higher in some countries and there are families who push for even more hours. In addition, this does not include organized, parentally managed activities that take place over the weekend like sports leagues. Disturbingly, there is now a push to extend the school day and the school year. How many more hours will a child have to work a day? When does a child have an opportunity to engage in unsupervised play?
“How many more hours will a child have to work a day? When does a child have an opportunity to engage in unsupervised play?”
If you work 12 hours a day and if recess is limited in school to 15 minutes, when do children have a chance to just run, hop, scream, twirl around and do what their bodies insist they do which is play mindlessly with no rules and no grownups.
American children and, in fact, many of the world’s children have little of the fun that children did just a generation ago. They spend tedious hours, sitting at desks or engaging in structured activities supervised by adults.
How did helicopter parenting, which would appear to be the ultimate in care taking, turn into a system of prolonged work hours in search of entry into elite schools and jobs? When children are put on waiting lists and given aptitude tests for elite pre-schools when they are less than 3-years-old, we can see that the anxiety, normally seen in stressed-out middle age adults trying to hold on to a job, has now encompassed elementary school and younger children.
“American children and, in fact, many of the world’s children have little of the fun that children did just a generation ago.”
Physical movement and play are essential to a child’s mental, emotional and physical health. We adults can vaguely remember how slow time used to pass when we were children. We can, if we try hard, recall the overwhelming need to move. Imagine what it must be like or a child to spend 12 hours a day being forced to follow a regimen that is largely sedentary.
What Can We Do About It?
- Bring back recess. Children should have at least 60 minutes a day of free play time during school hours.
- Arrange for neighborhood playtime after school.
- Come to an agreement that you and your neighbors will let your children come home to play, rather than attending after school activities.
- Leave children alone and let them choose what to play and how to play. If a problem occurs between the children, let them work it out.
- Press schools to limit homework to no more than one hour per night.
- Do allow children to play with tablets and smart phones but also make it really attractive to go outside and play, even when it’s cold.
- Small, neighborhood playgrounds within walking distance with really cool equipment would pull them to play rather than adults having to push them.
- Let them get hurt trying to do things that are just a little dangerous.
- Bloody knees, a broken arm and a funny scar on the back of the head are the rewards of learning how to judge risk and be a smart, confident adult.
- Get PTA’s and other local groups active in letting school boards and the municipal government know that they want play time and lots of it for their kids.
Richard is the CEO of Global Toy Experts, a global consultancy and resource for knowledge and guidance for competing in the 21st century play and children’s media businesses. He is also the publisher of Global Toy News, the industry resource for toy news, toy trends and analysis of the business of play.