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Afraid that Digital Play is Bad for Kids? New Report Could Put Our Fears to Rest

Jessica Joelle Alexander

Afraid that Digital Play is Bad for Kids? New Report Could Put Our Fears to Rest

I recently contribute to the “Lego Play Well Report” which aimed to understand the state of play globally and how it impacts families. Conducted by an independent intelligence agency, 13,000 people in 9 different countries were interviewed about their play habits, and the results showed that play had a dramatic effect on people’s happiness levels.  As the author of The Danish Way of Parenting; What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident Capable Kids, I was not surprised by these results. I write extensively about the power of play and how important it is for wellbeing.

What I was surprised about, however, was the new kind of play that has emerged which every parent needs to know about as it could change the way we view technology.

“Fluid play” is what researchers are calling it. It is overlapping experiences that bring the real world, imaginary play and digital experiences together as one.  Essentially, it is the child’s ability to move between the digital play space and physical play spaces seamlessly.

The report reveals that increased integration of digital layers doesn’t come at the expense of more traditional shared play as many have feared. In fact, learning skills like problem solving, creativity, communication and collaboration, are still at play in digital spaces, we just need to be a bit more aware of what is happening in these worlds. Since more than half of children in the report still prefer playing with their parents, the takeaway is: let’s be informed, not afraid, of fluid play.

Dr. Elena Hoicka, Professor of Psychology in Education at the University of Bristol says: “While many parents feel their children’s preference for digital play is getting in the way of what they see as better, typically more traditional activities, the truth is the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. More than previous generations, kids today see the digital and real worlds as part of one, interconnected play space. To make the most of their time playing together, parents need to adopt this fluid mindset too.”

The fear that most parents experience is often driven by our own lack of knowledge about the different forms of digital play and understanding how we can join in.

Most of us didn’t grow up with digital play. Therefore, we often worry that technology makes play a passive experience for our kids. It stifles creativity and imagination, and isolates them from families and friends. While these may be legitimate concerns, to a child, the digital space is seen as just another play space.

The reports’ findings suggest that parents need to understand the different types of play that are out there and learn how to trigger more fluid play together. Playing online games together, making movies or looking into some of the many apps LEGO has now developed to help parents and children engage in fluid play is a good start.

There are building apps, for example, which transition directly into the physical space, storytelling apps with voice-controlled technology, and even digital LEGO sets with real world scenes where families can mix the physical world together using augmented reality. These are all examples of how we, as parents, can be a part of their digital lives, not a part from them.

Lecturer and Play advocate at the University of Sussex, Cliff Richard says that parents should observe the way their children are playing in their digital spaces. If they feel that it is “stifling” other forms of play in their kids’ lives, it should be reconsidered. The key, he says, is not to; “just say no” but to “just say know.

When children co-view television with their parents, for example, they are more likely to learn words and test higher on cognitive abilities, than if they watch alone. This tells us that screen- based play can have a positive impact if parents are willing to get involved

So, the next time you see your child playing on a device and your first reaction is to feel concerned or like a bad parent, sit down and get interested. Try to look into what they like and see if you can suggest some games or apps you can be a part of too. Just because these aren’t things we are familiar with doesn’t mean we can’t learn. Remember, the happiness benefits for families are still there, whether its online play or offline, the key is being present and “just say know.”

For more inspiration I helped develop along with LEGO group and Edelman Intelligence, 10 Principles to help families Play Well .

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