My report Press Play — Activating young people’s health and wellbeing through play, documents findings of a survey I undertook in 2019 of 500 South Australian young people aged 13–18 on the importance of play in their lives.
I was particularly interested to hear their views on this subject because so much of the research around the importance of play has focussed on play for young children. Rarely has the importance of play for teenagers been examined.
Young people said they had little or no time for play in their current lifestyles as they were too busy and too tired to engage in play. Neither do they have the support of parents or other adults in their lives to exercise their right to play, saying higher priority is placed on completing schoolwork or engaging in adult endorsed extracurricular activities.
Young people were unanimous in their interest to have more time made available for play, particularly while they were at school, saying their overall engagement with the learning agenda would be significantly enhanced if educators took a more playful approach to its delivery.
We are more likely to create critical and creative adult thinkers if we address what barriers to play exist for young people at the individual, community, cultural and systemic levels, and then work together to remove them.
Young people play differently to previous generations so as well as creating opportunities for teenagers to have more play time, embedding playfulness into their lives means co-designing infrastructure with their input.
They have told us that they enjoy playing outdoors as well as indoors and that both have benefits. Participating in casual or informal unstructured activities can be just as beneficial as participating in organised ones, and that being made to feel welcome in spaces and places is very important to their sense of belonging and feelings of worth and respect.
Not only do young people want to be welcomed in museums and art galleries and other leisure venues, but they also want to see their art, music, literature, theatre, dance and sporting activities made available, and they need this to be made accessible and affordable and within easy reach of where they live.
They want to gather in youth-friendly places that are comfortable and welcoming, where innovation is encouraged and where moderate risk-taking is seen as a way of learning. They want places where they can simply ‘be’ and ‘hang out’ without fear of being ‘hassled, judged or moved on’.
Many reported that ‘having more free opportunities to play or engage in physical activity’ and ‘making it less expensive’ would increase their participation.
Reducing the cost of transport and making access to transport ‘easier’, ‘better’ and ‘more reliable’.
“Making cheaper sports and transport to get to the places for the activities.”
“Although the sports voucher program is commendable, it only covers one semester’s worth of sport.”
Others talked about providing more specific opportunities to encourage girls to be more active.
“Cultivating a culture that doesn’t shame people who were unfit to start with and not focusing and glorifying athletes. Normalise sports 4 regular people.”
“More opportunities for girls without pressure put on by boys and teachers.”
Young people have given us clear direction around what they need to relax, play and engage in leisure activities they want:
- Better Community Infrastructure
- More Affordable Activities
- More Support for their Participation
Young people are experiencing a number of fundamental barriers to play.
If we do genuinely want every young person to be enriched by the experiences that play, the arts, sport, and culture offers, no matter where they live, or what ability or income level they have, we need to commit to removing these barriers.