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Free play decreases and mental disorders increase in children


According to a study published by Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, rates of depression and anxiety among young Americans have risen steadily from the past 50 to 70 years.

We find similar data in other American, European or Asian countries, today mental disorders in children steadily increase. What are we doing wrong so that children have more anxiety and depression than ever?

Today, the estimate is that five to eight times more high school and college students meet the symptoms of a diagnosis of depression and anxiety greater than a few years ago.

Children and adolescents in the US are not the only ones. In Spain, the FAROS Notebook published that in children aged 10 to 14, depression is the 43rd cause of hospital admission. Other statistics in Mexico, Argentina or Colombia show similar data.

The question that arises automatically after knowing this data is ... why ?!

The increase in mental disorders in children and adolescents does not seem to be associated with the problems facing the world: economic crises, conflicts, wars ... Although it may seem difficult to believe, the rates of anxiety and depression in children were lower during the Cold War, World War II, or the Great Depression than today.

If the increase in depression and anxiety in children is not associated with the circumstances of today's world, we ask ourselves the same question again ... why ?!

One of the things that mental health experts know about depression and anxiety is that they are related to the sense of control or lack of control that we think we have over our lives. That is, if you get up at 6 in the morning because you have to go to that job that you don't like, but it gives you a payroll, you have to go on vacation with your in-laws because there is no escape, you have to paint the house blue because your partner loves it, etc, etc ... you are more likely to become distressed or depressed than those who simply believe they are victims of circumstances that are beyond their control.

However, we usually manage time for children now and 80 years ago and they did not get so depressed, therefore the question remains in the air ... why ?!

Let's stop analyzing what does not cause depression in children to dive into what experts point out as the essential cause of the increase in mental disorders in children:

Lack of freedom to play and explore for themselves.

Free play and exploration have been, for hundreds of years, the means of learning par excellence and the one that provides the most satisfaction to children. Children learn to solve their problems, to develop their own interests, to control their lives to some extent, to enjoy themselves, to be happy.

Free play is one that arises spontaneously, without being directed by the adult. It is the child who decides when the game begins, when it ends, and how and what to play with.

In the latter children, more and more, children are deprived of opportunities for free play, play that is not under the constant and watchful eye of parents. The one they can do without exerting absolute control over it.

The overprotection to which we subject children does not allow them to take a step in their leisure time without our continuing to direct and control them. They cannot go up a slide without us reminding them that they are going to fall, they cannot run very fast because we already alert them that they are going to trip, and so on and on.

Nowadays it seems normal to us to see a child in a park, no longer so small, followed at just 50 centimeters by his father or mother, chasing him throughout the park, constantly, as if he were his shadow. Helping him to go up, down, to relate, promoting him to do according to what activities and prohibiting others.

By depriving children of opportunities to play alone, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives.

We may think that we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their happiness, their fun, their sense of self-control, their ability to discover and explore, to strive for achievement. And with this, they increase the chances that they suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental disorders associated with excessive control.

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Video: Mental health in early childhood (January 2022).