Where has playful imagination gone?
I have had this particular article sitting open on my web browser for a few weeks now …. this is a particular habit of mine that is either a form of extreme procrastination or a form of self-mockery in my inability to focus on one thing at one time (something that I am working on with my daily meditation practice).
The thing is, this article is something I have needed to read as it gives insight into a particular problem that young people are facing and a problem that RWS is helping to face and overcome. It is an article that, having now read it, I feel everyone should read, and really think about in relation to the way our children function in this world. So what is this article? The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders.
The part of the article that piqued my interest the most (especially as it links so directly to my section of RWS – Success, and hence the ability to set and reach goals) was about intrinsic and extrinsic goals. What and what goals?? I hear you ask. Intrinsic goals are the goals you set based on your own skills, your own interests, and your own desire to do or achieve something, extrinsic goals are goals that are socially based - so high income, prestigious careers, the “perfect” partner, a certain body type, goals that are generally unachievable and to be frank, far less interesting and satisfying than the intrinsic ones.
The question to ask though is how are these two types of goals having an impact on the mental health of our children?
It all comes down to the control or lack of control that we have in our own lives, and how this impacts on the value we place on ourselves and what we achieve. What success means in society has a very certain bias towards the materialistic - as it says in the article, more young people are concerned about being financially successful than “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.”
"It all comes down to the control or lack of control that we have in our own lives"
If our children are being raised in a society where they believe the pinnacle of success is to be a rich footballer/singer with a mansion and a very attractive partner hanging off their arm, then of course they are going to grow up disappointed and with potentially crippling mental health problems. Success and happiness are an inside job, not a set of external conditions that in reality, only a few people ever achieve anyway (and a lot of that comes down to luck of the draw).
So how can we help our young children escape the grip of socially mandated goals and peer expected success, and really look inside themselves to see that their own desires and goals are valuable and precious?
In the article they talk about the need to open the world up to our children and to allow them “free play” again (free play is allowing children to play and explore without the overshadowing of adults, to learn how to “solve problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests” and to step into their own selves, without influence or bias).
I tend to agree with this recommendation …. from the age of about four or five, until I was maybe 11 or 12, I used to play all the time. I remember countless afternoons where, after school, I would go home and spend the next few hours outside, simply engaging with my imagination and problem-solving skills. One day, I was an award winning show jumper, the next day a Zookeeper (with my Zoo of worms and lizards), then I was a mermaid (diving deep in our backyard pool), or I would spend hours flying down the curve of the carport and walkway on my trike.
Life was fun and carefree, and I believed that anything was possible, but most importantly, I was developing my own dreams and goals for the future, based on my own inclinations and feelings, not what society or media wished me to do.
"We need to allow our children to simply play again...they may just surprise us"
We need to allow our children to simply play again; undirected, unscripted, unadulterated play - they may just surprise us with the intrinsic skills they already have and the intrinsic dreams and goals they have hidden deep inside.