Play Report: Children prefer playing with their parents over watching TV

Goodlifer: Play Report: Children prefer playing with their parents over watching TV

What would kids rather do — watch TV or play with their friends or parents? The results were overwhelming; nine out of ten children preferred playing socially. Children aged 7-12 were asked a series of paired-choice questions in an attempt to figure out what activity they would prefer doing. While playing with friends did beat playing with parents in most cases (89% preferred friends), nearly three-quarters of kids agreed that they preferred playing with their parents over watching TV.

Goodlifer: Playreport

While data like this may come as a pleasant surprise to adults who worry that kids today prefer screen entertainment over more active types of play, Dr. Barbie Clarke, co-author of the report, was not surprised by the results. According to Clarke, “Children are social creatures by nature. When they play with others, kids develop the ability to encode and decode emotional messages. They become empathic and develop social skills that will be vital later on in life. So while we may think that children would love to be attached to a screen of some sort, most show a natural inclination to socialize with others through play.”

Research for the study was initiated by home furnishings retailer IKEA. Called the Playreport, the survey conducted interviews with 7,933 parents and 3,116 children (aged 7-12) across 25 different countries in an attempt to explore issues about parenting, children and the ‘state of play’ across the world. I was very honored and excited to participate in the New York research-phase of this project. (Make sure to check out the introductory video.)

When they play with others, kids develop the ability to encode and decode emotional messages.

When they play with others, kids develop the ability to encode and decode emotional messages.

For some parents, proof that their kids want to play with them more than the sedentary activity of watching TV might come as guilt inducing news. According to the report, almost half (45%) of parents surveyed feel they don’t have enough time to play with their children, while the same proportion said they often feel guilty about spending too little time with their kids. Furthermore, when parents do find the time to play, many feel too distracted by other concerns. One quarter of parents surveyed agreed that “When I play with my children I am often too stressed to enjoy it.” Dr. Barbie Clarke finds this quite normal. “We live in a cash-rich, time-poor society.” She adds, “what’s really interesting is that ‘parents today spend four times more time with their children than they did in 1975. So actually we’re spending more time with our children, but we’re feeling more guilty than ever.”

Goodlifer: Playreport

Clarke attributes this in part to the modern emphasis and awareness about child development in general. “Parents feel they need to stimulate and entertain their children from the moment they’re born.” This type of self applied pressure might be a result of the often publicized belief that activating children’s minds correlates directly with intelligence. Clarke agrees with this theory — but with limits: “I think some parents risk being overly conscientious. There’s this idea that as a parent, I have to stimulate and look after my children constantly — when actually the most important thing is to engage emotionally with them. They don’t necessarily need parental or adult input all the time.”

Goodlifer: Playreport

“It’s not uncommon to hear people express the idea that play is a child’s job,” comments research advisor Derek Lyons. “But do we actually mean that play is a child’s job until they have something more important to do? In many ways, play is on the defensive these days — recess periods at schools are being reduced, and in the home, free play is often squeezed out by scheduled activities. The irony is that play is one of the most powerful learning engines for children — play and learning aren’t opposing forces.”

Making everyday activities like cooking a form of play by involving the children is a good way for families to get more playtime into their busy schedules.

The report also revealed that many parents find play stressful, tedious, even difficult. “A common thread was that many parents feel they have lost the ability to play,” explains Dr. Clarke. “This could be tied to the fact that more adults are becoming parents at an older age. They have a baby and it feels strange – their previously ordered lives are suddenly disrupted; they don’t know how to play spontaneously.” But perhaps there are things adults can learn from children. Play involves letting go in a way adults aren’t used to. “I think we’ve reached a place where the idea that you have to stop playing when you become an adult is finally fading away,” says blogger GeekDad, Ken Denmead. “The unintended result of grown-ups playing is something wonderful — we remain connected to our kids.”

So, parents out there, liberate your kids from the screens — get out (from behind your screen perhaps) and play!

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. So true, Good Article…love the last line!

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