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Screen Time or Spring Time

March 27, 2015
by Terry Stawar
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Our eight-year-old grandson recently wrote and illustrated a cute little story in which parents tell a boy playing a video game, to go outside and play. The punchline is that he  continues to play the same game, only outdoors under a tree. My wife Diane and our daughter bought him a t-shirt that has a cartoon on it that portrays exactly the same gag. I suppose the point is that children don’t play outside very much and we can’t escape the pervasive nature of digital technology.

University of Michigan and Kaiser Foundation studies reveal  that  the  average   child  spends  over seven hours a day  in  front of  electronic screens and less than 30 minutes playing outdoors.  

According to Boston College’s Peter Gray, back in the 1950s,  before iPhones, X-Boxes, Minecraft, 60 inch TVs,  Adam Walsh, and advanced placements,  children  had two educations. One was traditional school and the other was  “a hunter-gather education,"  in which children wandered  about neighborhoods in mixed age groups engaged in “free play.” My friends and I played outdoors until dark nearly every day. On weekends and during the summer we played cowboys, roamed  alleyways,  played kick-the-can, and  built things.

As an evolutionary psychologist, Gray believes  that the  hunter-gather education is the same schooling our ancestors employed for thousands of years.  It allowed baby boomers to engage in hobbies, use  tools, get in and out of trouble, read comics, daydream, visit libraries,   and learn to negotiate social interactions. Gary claims that it   was far more valuable to his adult life than regular school. He says that through free play, younger kids learned from older ones  and  are  immersed   in a stable, moral community. Free play is valuable, although  I’m not sure it’s always particularly safe or wholesome.



Terry Stawar

President/CEO (LifeSpring, Inc.)

Terry Stawar


Terry L. Stawar, EdD, is President and CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems, a community behavioral...

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