Call for more and better “play” for adolescents

Lalitha Vasudevan, Professor of Technology and Education and Director of the Media and Social Change lab at Teachers College, Columbia University photo
Lalitha Vasudevan, Professor of Technology and Education and Director of the Media and Social Change lab at Teachers College, Columbia University

Sanctioned free play for adolescents is essential for their development, yet all too often opportunities are limited, constrained or not available at all, which is having a detrimental impact.

This was the message from Lalitha Vasudevan, Professor of Technology and Education and Director of the Media and Social Change lab at Teachers College, Columbia University (America) as she delivered the opening plenary at the UK Literacy Association’s 55th International Conference today.

The play of adolescents has all but completely been obliterated from the landscape of acceptable youth practice, particularly in schools, but in many after-school and out-of-school spaces as well. The acceptable forms seem to be colonized by tropes of organized creativity, forms of computational literacy and coding, and genres of writing that are recognized as legitimate arenas for exploration. Play that falls outside of these and other sanctioned parameters can result in unpleased and, sometimes, dangerous consequences for young people.

Lalitha Vasudevan said: “There is something fundamental about the way in which we understand young people. They are not seen as children so it becomes ok for us to expect different things of them. My worry is that as part of this we then take away their right to play.

“Yet what young people remember is often linked to a physical experience, such as play, which gives them opportunities to engage, interact and to use different tools to create relationships. Free, unfettered play is great for adolescents, but currently it is limited and constrained. It’s having an impact on young people.”

Lalitha Vasudevan also called upon teachers, educators and researchers to consider how they could contribute to changing this reality.

She said: “Where are the spaces for young people to engage in such play that is free from reprimand or remediation? We need to think differently about how we construct public spaces to allow for play by adolescents. There is a lot that teachers and schools could be doing in this area. There is a need for a public campaign.”


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