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  • Meredith Shaw

“Eye-Opening,” “Thought-Provoking,” “Powerful.”

"Eye-Opening,” “Thought-Provoking,” “Powerful,”“More families need to see this!” These are a few responses from community members who watched Chasing Childhood, a documentary film that explores the relationship between the decline of independence and free-play in kids’ lives and the climbing rates of anxiety and depression.

The film was screened for in-person viewing at Masco on November 3, with on-demand viewing available Nov. 1-8. During the in-person discussion held after the screening, attendees did an experiential activity, shared what struck a chord with them, and wondered “How can we involve more community members in this important conversation?”

Paired with the talk two weeks prior by Dr. Peter Gray on “What Exactly Is Play?” our Tri-Town community has joined other nearby communities in this exploration of #WhyWePlay. Like others across the country, Newburyport held community programs with Dr. Gray, and most recently with Lenore Skenazy, who are both featured in the film, and Ipswich recently hosted both Dr. Gray and Chasing Childhood. The goal of these efforts is to prompt community discussions and identify action steps about childhood, how we define success and how to best support the developmental needs of our youth.

“We care deeply about our youth and are all grappling with the best ways to support their mental health and well being,” said Meredith Shaw, Tri-Town Council Executive Director. “The parallels that Dr. Gray and the film raise about the steady decline of free play over the past several decades and the increase in youth rates of anxiety, depression and suicide is incredibly compelling and forces consideration of ‘root cause’.” Shaw noted that “There is a sense of shared responsibility in our communities. This film invites us, as a community, to reflect upon some important questions about what foundational experiences our children need (and which ones they already have) to help them thrive.”

In case you missed these events in our community, it’s not too late to get up to speed! Peter Gray’s talk was recorded, and Chasing Childhood—though previously only licensed for community hosting—is now available to rent or purchase via Apple TV + or Amazon Prime. Yay! We invite you to watch it on your own, or host a watch party with friends!

Please see our links below.

As we approach the winter and holiday season, perhaps it is a good time to snuggle up with some thought-provoking insights, and share in conversations with family and friends.

Then let’s re-connect in the new year and see where this can go.

For now, get caught up by watching these two videos:

Film Summary: Chasing Childhood is a feature length documentary that explores how free play and independence have all but disappeared from kids’ lives, supplanted by relentless perfectionism leading to record rates of anxiety and depression, a situation now compounded by the pandemic. Free play, unsupervised by adults, is critical for developing essential life skills: grit, independence, and resourcefulness. Many young adults may appear more accomplished on paper, but by the time they get to college they are emotionally struggling and lacking the tools needed to live independently.

Thank-you, Boxford Cable, for recording this event!

Time: Gray’s initial presentation is from approximately :05-1:13 (68 min), followed by Q&A 1:13-1:58 (45 min).

Bio: Peter Gray, Ph.D. is a research professor of psychology and neuroscience at Boston College who has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education. He is an internationally acclaimed author whose recent research focuses on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves through play and exploration, when they are free to do so.

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