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Should Adults Play Like Kids?

Should Adults Play Like Kids?

Kids’ lives are fun. They play.

Adults’ lives are serious. We work. We have responsibilities.

Many psychologists and psychiatrists question this widely-held dichotomy. They think that kids should play a lot and continue to play into adulthood.

They claim that the most likely path toward a successful, happy life – a life in which one can have his cake and eat it too – is guided by intrinsic motivation. You may have heard of the concept of euphoric “flow” experiences. These are intense moments of intrinsic motivation applied toward a goal, and they combine extreme happiness with great accomplishment. See the book Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

People who are intrinsically motivated do things because they want to, not because someone else expects them to. In general, they accomplish more than people who are motivated by external forces (like bosses and parents and rules), and they’re healthier and happier. In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink writes about how employers can get the most out of their employees by finding ways to motivate them intrinsically.

When children play freely, they are manifesting intrinsic motivation in its purest form. According to psychiatrist Peter Gray, “activity oriented toward intrinsic goals, almost by definition, is play.” Children do exactly what they want to do and learn a lot, and they have a great deal of fun in the process. By playing freely, the book Flow states, children “acquire the skills and attitudes required for successful adulthood.”

So, it seems, we should be encouraging adults to be more like kids, to be more playful. Instead, we’ve been encouraging kids to be more like adults, foisting responsibilities and stress on them. Researcher Jean Twenge finds that children are experiencing significantly more emotional problems than did children of decades ago, and she attributes this trend to a change in childhood from intrinsic motivation to extrinsic motivation.

Another wide-ranging study of children’s emotional problems concludes, “Approximately one in every four to five youth in the U.S. meets criteria for a mental disorder with severe impairment across their lifetime.”

“Severe impairment across their lifetime.” “One in every four or five.” Wow…

What the heck are we doing to our kids? Pink and Csikszentmihaly say adults need to be more childlike, more intrinsically motivated, to be more successful and happy. Twenge and others say kids are depressed in unprecedented numbers because they’re not intrinsically motivated enough.

We need more childish play from childhood through to adulthood. Childhood should be the foundation for adulthood, not the other way around.

Read more: Children, Depression, Family, Fun, Health, Mental Wellness, Stress, , , , , , ,

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Mike Lanza

Mike Lanza, MA Ed and MBA (Stanford), is a blogger at and soon-to-be-published book author on the subject of kids' play in neighborhoods. He's worked hard to create a very rich neighborhood play life for his three boys - ages 7, 4, and 2 - in Menlo Park, California. He's also discovered and written about dozens of neighborhoods throughout North America that are doing innovative things to make a vibrant life for kids. Prior to his writing career, Mike was a five-time software and Internet entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.


+ add your own
3:53PM PST on Jan 22, 2014

Play is important :) Thanks for sharing.

4:37PM PDT on May 22, 2012

Do what you love and love what you do!

4:36PM PDT on May 22, 2012

nat geo did a segment on this. See also "Strange Days on Planet Earth"

8:22PM PDT on Mar 26, 2012

thanks for sharing

2:32AM PST on Mar 9, 2012

Thank you

2:48AM PST on Mar 5, 2012


5:54PM PST on Mar 4, 2012

Playing is healthy no matter your age!

5:53PM PST on Mar 4, 2012

Playing is healthy no matter your age!

5:53PM PST on Mar 4, 2012

Playing is healthy no matter your age!

5:53PM PST on Mar 4, 2012

Wow. I needed that.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

Good advise. Thank you.

great article, very good info

Trust the process not the result.

Thanks for sharing! Good ideas, great post!


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