Written by: Jenny Smith
The increasingly high rates of mental distress in children in the western world is an on going cause for concern, with statistics for depression and anxiety being several times higher than they were fifty years ago.
Being In Control
A popular theory as to why this is taking place is the link between the reduction of freedom to play outside and it’s affect on young people feeling in control over their lives. Research shows that depression and anxiety are more likely to come about if young people feel that they are not in control of their lives, that instead they are at the mercy of life’s circumstances.
How this links into outside play is that when children play away from adults they have to rely on themselves to problem solve. This means they develop skills and inner resources of decision making that build their sense of themselves as the guides of their own lives, which in turn equips them with independence, self esteem and resilience, all of which guard against depression and anxiety.
Depriving Children’s Freedom
Classically adults think that they are protecting their children by not letting them play away, but looking at it through this lens, the kids are actually being deprived of taking control over their own lives, prevented from having exciting discoveries and explorations, denying the experience of their freedom and joy.
It is common nowadays for children to spend free time in supervised clubs, rather than roaming the countryside. This means that they are spending more and more time in settings where adults rather than children are in charge, within a culture that values achievement rather than free expression. All of these factors are contributing to more rigidity and control and less spontaneity and fun, which does not bode well for childrenâ€™s mental wellbeing.
Look At The Options
If you recognise your family in this description take some time to consider what the options are for you to give your children some freedom outdoors. Are there camps that they can go on where they are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves to greater or lesser degrees? Wilderness or survival camps offer young people a healthy taste of finding their own resources to cope with being out in the wild. Or is there a way that they can roam outdoors nearby home that feels a healthy mixture of contained and wild? Balance your own needs for peace of mind with your kids needs for autonomy and growth and see if you can create opportunities for them to take the necessary risks in life, developing the much needed quality of self reliance.