What’s trending now?
Doctors are prescribing playtime for stressed and depressed children (and their equally lonely, unhappy parents and grandparents).
Why it’s important
Our frenetic always-connected lives are impacting negatively on our mental health and wellbeing. Sadly, the fast pace of modern life is also affecting the mental health of our children.
Generation Alphas, just like their busy millennial parents, are suffering from a lack of quality free time. As their ambitious parents try to pack more and more enrichment and education into their off-springs’ lives, the time children spend playing has plummeted. Generation Alphas have 12 hours less playtime on average than their millennial parents enjoyed when they were growing up in the 1980s.
Now, doctors are warning that the decline in playtime is having a devastating effect on the health, mental wellness, socialisation and even the cognitive ability of children. (Studies show that countries where children are given more, free playtime while young, see more academic success as those children get older.) So much so, that they are now prescribing playtime to overworked, stressed small children, the same way they would prescribe a Panado for a fever.
Above: Why paediatricians are prescribing play time
What’s the butterfly effect?
Free playtime – especially physical, outdoor, social playtime is an essential part of childhood development. When children neglect real-world physical interactions in favour of indoor, online activities, they are at risk of developing mental and physical health problems.
This is particularity important, given that childhood stress, depression and even suicide are on the rise the world over:
- 80,000 children in the UK suffer from depression.
- In America, Psychology Today reports that the prevalence of major childhood depression and anxiety disorders (which it also notes are highly correlated with declining playtime over the same period) has increased by five to eight times over the past 50 years.
- In South Africa studies found 24% of school children in Grade 8 to Grade 11 surveyed had experienced feelings of depression, hopelessness and sadness and a further 21% had attempted suicide at least once.
Doctors believe investing more time in children’s happiness – through prescribed play – could possible help reverse this sad trend.
“At a time when early childhood programs are pressured to add more didactic components and less playful learning, paediatricians can play an important role in emphasising the role of a balanced curriculum that includes the importance of playful learning for the promotion of healthy child development.” ~ Michael Yogman, chairman of the American Association of Paediatrics committee on psychosocial aspects of child family health.
Of course, prescribed play could have a positive effect on stressed, depressed and lonely adults too.
The pioneers and the global hotspots
The American Academy of Paediatrics released a report in 2018 titled The Power of Play. In this report they wrote, “Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function”. They went on to recommend that doctors prescribe “play every day” to all their young patients.
The Indian Education Minister, Manish Sisodia, is trialling a “Happiness Class” curriculum in Delhi’s public schools to improve the mental wellbeing of school children. The 35-minute Happiness Classes include meditation, creativity and positive thinking exercises – but no exams, tests or grades.
Above: Watch India’s Happiness Classes
Digital medicine manufacturers, members of Digital Therapeutics Alliance, are encouraging doctors to prescribe virtual reality – or “software-as-medicine” – for a range of mental and physical ailments. One such VR prescription, Akili Interactive’s video game for children with ADHD, has demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in patient concentration in a randomised, controlled clinical trial.
In the UK, the NHS is now encouraging GPs to prescribe bridge, cooking classes, ballroom dancing and art lessons rather than drug based treatments as a first option for lonely and mildly depressed adult patients too. Loneliness affects one in five UK adults. A study, commissioned by London-based arts charity and social enterprise Aesop, found that two-thirds of UK GPs agreed that “public engagement with the arts can make a significant contribution to the prevention agenda”.
Above: More on prescribing play time for children.
By Bronwyn Williams
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Image credit: Robert Collins