Years ago I wanted to be a psychoanalyst. I became particularly fascinated with childrens play. I always loved to play with kids and still do! Because of this I wanted to be a child psychoanalyst. Because of this I watched childrens play very closely and interpreted it (much like dream interpretation). This was in the mid-late 80’s. I eventually abondoned psychology but still played with kids and watched their play (as, personally, I still ‘study’ chidrens play).
As I continued to watch play I noticed a change in the 90’s. It’s a change I still see today. Even initially it concerned me. It concerns me even more now. Basically, the change I saw in childrens play, beginning by at least the mid 90’s, is that there is an absence of symbolism in childrens play. Even now it is something I see rarely. In the 80’s I saw it left and right. Childrens play was very fantastical and imaginative, involving symbols of their mental situation and dilemma. Play was as if a demonstration of their mental situation, an expression of their passion and life. This same type of play was described by early authors decades ago as well.
But the observation that I have made in childrens play has been remarked by other people as well. I’m not the only who noticed it. It is something to be concerned about. To me, it means that the children are not ‘experiencing’, so to speak, their full humanity. They are actually being denied a part of their humanity. Because they are being denied part of their humanity they are not growing up properly. Play – I mean real human symbolic play – is part of growing up. To deny them of this play is to deny growing up.
I tend to believe that the modern world is the cause of a lot of this. In effect, the problem with childrens play is a symptom of a greater problem, of the dehumanizing of life by the modern world. In other words, the problem with childrens play is a sign of a greater social problem. This means it is not an isolated situtation but in response to a greater issue.
Some of the things I see as a cause for this are:
- Education. The educational system has done nothing but turn kids into little efficient robots. I’ve been stunned how many kids act like ‘Mr. intellectual’ and look at things ‘logically’. My god, their kids! They shouldn’t be looking at things like that. And the poor kids have to be taught all this ‘nonsense’ (pretty soon they will be requiring kids to learn a second language and precalulus in grade school!). They are also burdened with having an absurd amount of homework. It’s ridiculous. Are kids taught things like tradition, culture, morality, right and wrong, vales, and such? No. They are taught to be ‘little scientists’ and ‘little intellectuals’. The education system does not teach kids to be ‘little human beings’.
- Various social issues. I feel that one of the most damaging things the modern world has created is the idea of ‘equality’ during the cold war. All this did is undermine identity, roles, authority, tradition, authority, and other things that a culture rests upon . . . and this it did. As a result, kids are seldom taught things like tradition, the importance of roles, morality and such. These are basic elements of human life . . . but the idea of ‘equality’ destroyed it all. Now its practically a crime to instil ‘roles’, to instil ‘right and wrong’, to instill ‘tradition’. This is all part of the ‘modern disaster’ no one seems to know about.
- The new toys and gadgets. I do not believe the toys and gadgets are bad in themselves. The main problem, it seems, is that they become too dominating and too many kids lives revolves around these toys and gadgets. Boys spend hours a day playing computer games. Girls spend 90% of their waking life with their face in their phones. This is not a normal life. What do you think that’s going to do?
- Watching TV. I have always believed that watching TV has an impact on childrens play. One of the main reasons is that it ‘plays’ for them. That is to say, the plot, story, and character does all the play for them. They just sit, watch, and react. As a result, children tend to not actively initiate play and go through the experience of playing. In so doing it deprives children of a desire to play . . . and when they do play they often imitate what they saw on TV. In effect, watching ‘ready made play’ makes kids less likely to want to play.
- Consumerism. Having ‘ready made toys’ and ‘theme based toys’ and objects to play with have helped decreased the fantastical and imaginative way of play. They tend to not have to ‘create’ the play. When I was a kid, for example, we often had to ‘invent’ things to do out of anything lying about. We didn’t have ‘ready made toys’ to play with. Part of play is creating something out of nothing. In a way, that is the ‘magic’ and power of play.
- Technology in general. The multitude and various ways technology has effected life has had great impact on our life and, subsequantly, play. The amount of impact this has had on life is almost too numerous to be able to write down.
All in all, I see what appears to me as a sign of our dehumanization. In a way, it shows that humanity is becoming nothing but a ‘pawn’ to the modern world. Children, in a sense, are being treated like little ‘machines’ to the modern system. They must learn to comply or else! In a way, the message of the modern world, or it seems to me, is that we must do things its way, we must conform to its ways of doing things, inhuman or not. Everything about it says this. To be ‘modern’ we must lose at least some of our humanity. It’s the only way to fit in. It seems to me that this is what’s happening with children today.