Children's Rights and Access
Children’s access to the world that we live in is consistently restricted by adults, society, and cultural norms. Even when the circumstances are not explicitly restrictive, it is hard to find a circumstance where young people are free to experience a park or playground without a list of rules or direct supervision. In a more direct way, children have limited access to parts of their world. If a parent were to bring their child to an office building for a day their environment would likely be significantly restricted by the design of the building and the beliefs of the parent’s coworkers. When we look at the number of environments in the world that afford children the opportunity to experience true play, it doesn’t take long to realized the way children experience the world is considerably restricted.
We have an obligation to ensure that these restrictions are limited in their nature and that children have safe access to the world around them. The rights of the child as outlined in the UNCRC include fundamental rights afforded to all children in the nations that have ratified the UNCRC. These rights include survival, protection and participation. Most importantly, the UNCRC considers children to be individuals severely impacted by the world around them. Furthermore, the UNCRC outlines that the needs of children are inherently different than those of adults and as a result, children deserve a unique set of rights.
Beyond the basic survival rights, Article 31 recognizes “the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” We know that play is a fundamental piece of the development of children. In fact, it is one of the most fundamental pieces of development. Therefore, it is important that his right is recognized and affirmed.
As we further discussed the number of opportunities young people have to engage with the world without instruction, direction, or extrinsic motivation, it became more and more evident that the world is not structured to nourish young people but instead to protect young people and their development. While safety is important, I believe individualism is equally important. Unrestricted play is as innate in our children as is breathing or sleeping. Jakk Penksepp demonstrated that, even with a piece of their brain removed young rats still engaged in unrestricted play with one another. If we act to restrict the way children play, we are restricted this innate desire.
In the most extreme cases of play deprivation and neglect, we know that individuals can experience severe developmental delays. These delays are not only psychological but are also biological. The way the brain develops with and without play is drastically different. In less extreme cases, play deprivation can lead to mental health issues, social issues, and physical issues in childhood and adolescence. Further, we know that play in childhood builds a framework for adulthood. Consequently, play deprivation in childhood can lead to depression, aggression, and difficulty coping.
The world is full of environments that naturally constrict play for children. One primary example discussed this week is the hospital. Medical environments often focus only on the surface in the face of an emergency. Through holistic research, we know that introducing a child life specialist into a medical environment can have a drastic positive affect on the child’s medical outcomes. For me, the introduction of a CCLS into a healthcare setting is a statement that we are invested in the future of the child and the child’s holistic development as opposed to solely investing in their current health. A CCLS is focused on work with children in severe medical situations to ensure that their development is attended to and that they experience similar developmental progress to their peers that exist beyond the hospital walls.
The world today is designed to shelter children and engage them in structured opportunities for play. We know that children will gain the most from play that is unrestricted and intrinsically motivating. In every field that we work, we can easily analyze the number of opportunities the environment offers children to experience true play. If the opportunities are limited, it is our responsibility to develop more opportunities for the sake of the development of the children that experience that space.