"...parent-child play of this sort has been virtually unheard of throughout human history, according to the anthropologist David Lancy. And three-fourths of the world's current population would still find that mother's behavior kind of dotty.
American-style parent-child play is a distinct feature of wealthy developed countries -- a recent byproduct of the pressure to get kids ready for the information-age economy, Lancy argues in a recent article in American Anthropologist, the field's flagship journal in the United States.
"Adults think it is silly to play with children" in most cultures, says Lancy, who teaches at Utah State University. Play is a cultural universal, he concedes, "but adults aren't part of the picture." Yet middle-class and upper-middle-class Americans -- abetted, he says, by psychologists -- are increasingly proclaiming the parents-on-all-fours style the One True Way to raise a smart, well-adjusted child.
"I'm not clear what's bothering this guy," he says, referring to Lancy. "We are not talking about the parents playing all day long with the children. We're just saying that children need to play, and particular kinds of play -- imaginative play that has a storytelling element to it -- are very useful" in our culture.