outdoor play 'hurts children'
Over-anxious parents, computer games and school
tests are to blame, a letter signed by almost 300
academics, authors and charity leaders says.
The decline in "unstructured, loosely supervised"
play is adversely affecting children's mental
health, they add.
It also threatens young people's long-term
development, the letter to the Daily Telegraph says.
Among the signatories are novelist Philip Pullman,
director of the Royal Institution Baroness Susan
Greenfield and child care expert Dr Penelope Leach.
More than 40 professors, 60 psychologists and
psychotherapists, and leaders of the main children's
charities and teaching unions also lend their names
to the letter.
It flags up a recent Unicef finding that British
children were among the unhappiest in a league table
of 21 industrialised countries.
The letter says: "We believe that a key factor in
this disturbing trend is the marked decline over the
last 15 years in children's play."
The experts say that play - especially when it takes
place outdoors - is crucial to a child's health.
An increase in traffic, parental fears about
abduction by strangers and a "test-driven" culture
of education have all contributed to the trend, they
They add that "the ready availability of sedentary,
sometimes addictive screen-based entertainment and
the aggressive marketing of over-elaborate,
commercialised toys" have also played a part.
They call for a "wide-ranging and informed public
dialogue about the intrinsic nature and value of
play in children's healthy development".
The signatures were gathered by Sue Palmer, author
of the book Toxic Childhood, and Dr Richard House, a
senior lecturer in psychotherapy at Roehampton
They said: "'Real play' - socially interactive,
first-hand, loosely supervised - has always been a
vital part of children's development, and its loss
could have serious implications.
"Just as the epidemic of childhood obesity recently
took the developed world by surprise, too much 'junk
play' could (like too much junk food) have alarming
implications for the next generation."
Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children's
Society, said he agreed that adult anxieties about
the modern world were curtailing children's freedom.
He said: "Recent research has shown that the UK is
one of the worst places in the western world to be a
"As mentioned in today's letter, play is one of the
crucial elements of a good childhood."