I recently photographed my 19-year-old son and his friend sitting in the grass in my front yard staring intently at their phones. They didn’t think it was cute when I created a meme titled “How Children Play Outside in 2015” and posted it on Facebook! This was a rare moment for these particular boys. They are the type to literally play in mud and grease with four wheelers, dirt bikes and cars on a daily basis. But the idea that children “in this day and age” no longer engage in imaginative play reminded me of all the games we used to play back in the day. Then it occurred to me, if I enjoyed these things so much, why do I no longer engage in them?
As we mature, do we lose our inquisitive nature? Our silly side? Our need to lose ourselves in fantasy? Or do we just forget how much fun it can be? Some of my best memories are growing up playing with my brother. We played “Stranded on a Boat” and fished for random toys off the side of the bed. I got to be the bad guy while my brother and his friends chased me around the neighborhood and then booked me into jail (our father is a policeman and we used this theme often). We created block mazes for our hermit crabs to maneuver as if they were soldiers searching an abandoned base. There was always the excitement of thinking of new scenarios to play out.
As an adult, when my life fell apart and depression and anxiety moved in, I was so stressed that I was seeking relief through commitment to some sort of project; to busy myself. I took on the task of helping a friend recover from his substance abuse. This definitely took my mind off of my own problems but only served to foster avoidance of my feelings. It would have served me well to engage in some imaginative play a few times a week and still allow myself time to feel, work through issues, and heal.
We know that exercise is good for our mental health, as well as proper diet, nutrition, and healthy relationships. But perhaps we should make time to play! Now that imaginative play is on my mind, I see a pillow fort in the near future….