The free play- based approach to children personal development

Children seek the thrills provided by free play, where they experience situations with their friends that they organize themselves, free from adult involvement. Unfortunately, today this opportunity is almost entirely absent; their lives are completely structured and almost always unfold under adult supervision. When they are not at school or at home, they usually participate in an activity organized by adults from a sports club.

This leads to an inability to learn how to organize their own time, and they are not free to behave spontaneously because some adult is always watching, exercising control in some way. Over the years, this way of life results in an inability to resolve conflicts with peers, limited decision-making skills, and the inability to face any difficulty alone without the help of an adult.

As teenagers, they have difficulty managing the typical changes of this age and need someone to solve the problems they encounter. How they live today is the exact opposite of how young people grew up in the past. They would go to school, come home, spend the afternoon between homework and going out with friends, to the oratory, to the scouts, biking, playing in the parks, and then return home for dinner. It was a life centered on free play, essential for physical, mental, and social health, whereas now this opportunity to engage in outdoor free play is denied.

Starting in the 1990s, at a much faster pace than in previous years, a radical change in lifestyle began, which is still ongoing:

  • Parents preferred to think that outdoor free play was too dangerous for their children because they might be attacked by people who would abuse them.
  • Sports have definitively taken over organized play, managed by clubs dedicated to specialization in a single discipline, thus limiting and perhaps eliminating free play.
  • The use of smartphones starting in 2012 has allowed young people to confuse the virtual life produced by social media with lived reality, creating the foundation for what is now called the anxious generation.
  • Risky play has disappeared in the name of a false sense of security. Free, exciting, and engaging play, which involves uncertainty of outcome and a possibility of getting hurt, is no longer accepted today. Perceived risk is no longer seen as an opportunity for decision-making and personal development. Today, parents instead think that children at home glued to their phones are at least safe from these dangerous situations, while they do not know that perhaps their child is watching a porn video on their smartphone or feeling bad about not having sculpted muscles like those on Instagram. The same goes for a teenage girl who doesn’t feel beautiful like those who post on social media or sees others having fun at a party, while it’s not true; it’s just a selfie where everyone pretends to feel joy they don’t actually feel.

We certainly shouldn’t blame ourselves for how young people live today. It’s about understanding that this lifestyle has many limitations and does not stimulate personal development.

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