what children in our culture want to learn when they are free turns out to be skills that are valued in our culture and that lead to good jobs and satisfying lives.
As the psychologist Teresa Amabile, professor at Harvard Business School, has shown in her book (1996) and in many experiments, the attempt to increase creativity by rewarding people for it or by putting them into contests to see who is most creative has the opposite effect. It’s hard to be creative when you are worried about other people’s judgments. In school, children’s activities are constantly being judged. School is a good place for learning to do just what someone else wants you to do; it’s a terrible place for practising creativity.
The reason why play is such a powerful way to impart social skills is that it is voluntary. Players are always free to quit, and if they are unhappy they will quit.
In recent decades we as a society have been conducting a play-deprivation experiment with our children. Today’s children are not absolutely deprived of play as the rats and monkeys are in the animal experiments, but they are much more deprived than children were 60 years ago and much, much more than children were in hunter-gatherer societies. The results, I think, are in. Play deprivation is bad for children. Among other things, it promotes anxiety, depression, suicide, narcissism, and loss of creativity. It’s time to end the experiment.