Childminding Ireland was delighted to host the webinar Free Play and Risky Play, Essential for Well-being which was delivered by Dr Mary O’Kane. Dr O’Kane’s presentation not only captivated her audience but also left them with a wealth of valuable insights into the value of unstructured and adventurous play. She suggests that “in our culture today, children are often deprived of freedom for exploration and risk taking. Yet, we know that free play is the primary way in which children become emotionally resilient”.
During her presentation, Dr O’Kane spoke about the impact of having one good adult in a child’s life and the significance of this relationship in supporting a child’s development. She reminded childminders of their influential role and suggested that they may be that person at times.
Dr O’Kane shared research carried out by American psychologist, Prof Jean Twenge which revealed that there has been a staggering increase in anxiety and depression among teenagers. Professor Twenge links this change from previous generations to technology, “the first generation to spend their adolescence in the age of the smartphone”, meeting “face to face with friends less; spend more time alone in their bedroom; are more likely to say they often feel left out”.
While in total agreement with Professor Twenge’s research, Dr O’Kane felt that the issues that teenagers are experiencing today are also caused by the decline in opportunities for free play in early childhood. She suggested that most of us are guilty of over protecting our children and failing to recognise how capable they are at minding themselves while taking part in free and risky play. Has parental scaffolding gone too far? Are we trying to outrun risk?
Dr O’Kane encouraged everyone who attended the webinar to allow their children to take part in free and safe risk play and to help change attitudes of others. She suggested to take a risk-benefit approach, weighing up the likely risks associated with risky play versus the benefits.