Peter Gray: Do Kids Really Play Anymore?

Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, joins Tim to talk about whatever happened to free play among children. This is a problem in society. The fact that kids aren’t playing in the same ways or as much as they used to. And what it all means. Peter has conducted and published groundbreaking research in the area of play in human evolution.

kids at play

If I were to say the word, “play” to you, what would that make you think of?

Would you wonder if I’m talking about playing a game, or playing a sport? Would you think I’m talking about tennis or golf?

What if I were to talk about kids at play? What would that make you think of? Close your eyes. Do you see a group of kids at play? Is there an adult in the picture? Or, are they just playing amongst themselves?

These are critical questions. And believe it or not, play, is a very important topic.

In preparing for today’s episode, our guest, Peter Gray, shared a paper he wrote recently for the Journal of Pediatrics. In it, Peter and his co-authors, dig deep into a problem in society.

There has been a decline in what they call “independent activity” and it’s hurting kids. That “independent activity” is otherwise known as play.

Peter makes the case that the rise of anxiety and depression among kids of school age, and of teenagers in the U.S. is at an all-time high. They draw a correlation between this trend, and a steady decline in the chance for kids and teens to play in ways their parents did when they were kids. In ways their parents may have taken for granted.

The first thing I wanted to ask Peter was, “What’s the difference between playing on an organized baseball team or a soccer team, and the kind of play that he says is on the decline?”


About this Episode’s Guest Peter Gray

Peter Gray

Psychologist Peter Gray, faculty emeritus, photographed to accompany a story about his new book, “Free to Learn,” which concerns the importance of play for children’s healthy development and ability to thrive.

Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College who has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education. He is author of an internationally acclaimed introductory psychology textbook, now in its 8th edition, which brings an evolutionary perspective to the entire field. His recent research focuses on the roles of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so. He has expanded on these ideas in his book, Free to Learn (Basic Books). His research includes surveys of grown un-schoolers and graduates of a school designed for Self-Directed Education. He also authors a regular blog called Freedom to Learn, for Psychology Today magazine. His research findings have led him to become an advocate of Self-Directed Education. He is a founding member and president of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.