Monday, July 23, 2007

Leave Those Kids Alone

A strange study cited in an article on focuses on the work of Utah State University anthropologist David Lancy, who appears to be making the argument that encouraging of parent-child play in developed societies is a potentially dangerous to child development. Lancy's rationale, the best as I can grasp it from a brief article, is that historically, and in contemporary tribal societies, parent-child play is not characteristic. Children play with their peers and on their own. Excerpt:
"...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.

Needless to say, this analysis makes little sense to me, and smacks, unfortunately of that evil of academia, particularly in the social sciences - to be shamelessly sensationalist and willfully perverse in your conclusions. But I'm neither a social scientist nor an anthropologist. The article seems to contain an adequate rebuttal, by Yale's Jerome Singer:

"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.

But I'd be interested in other thoughts. People with kids? Anthropologists? Psychologists?

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