By Bob Houghtaling

Who would have thought 30 years ago that one day children would need to be taught how to play? Who would have thought that strategies were necessary to help kids talk with each other, remain focused and relax? We are presently in the midst of a stress and anxiety crisis that is significantly impacting our young people. Perhaps the simplest solutions are necessary to address the situation.

Remember

Remember when there was a thing called play
And children did it most everyday
On the swings or chasing a ball
Engaged in fun nearly all

Remember when we spoke face to face
And not so at such hurried pace
A smile, hug or pat on the back
Perhaps two friends walking round a track

Somehow these days have passed from view
For constant quest of something new
With most contacts by computer or phone
Little wonder we now feel alone

Remember lessons when teachers spoke
With skills intended to evoke
Critical thinking through passionate minds
While having time to be quite kind

Remember when imagination reigned
And far off places learners gained
With time left to stare at clouds
Engaging friends, to laugh out loud

Now the pressure for test scores
Has forced our leaders need implore
Students to ride a conveyor belt
Scarce time concerning what was felt

Perhaps remembering not long ago
Is something all of us do know
And teaching young people this simple gift
Can cure that which has become bereft

So, let’s remember to take a walk
Spend moments sharing heartfelt talks
Looking neighbors in the eye
These can be done if we try

While there might be no stopping change
Priorities can be re-arranged
We will experience brighter days
If taking time to engage in play

We live in a world of extremes. We also live in a world of tweets, media overload and a constant flow of information. These dynamics have caused a number of conflicts as well as wonderful advances. As we hurry though life, taking a brief interlude for play might prove to be a powerful elixir.

P.S. Recently a number of young people have helped me develop a program called ASAPP which teaches children how to recognize and ask for help regarding stress/anxiety. Sometimes the best answers come from kids themselves. While young learners might not be therapists, they can play a huge role in creating an environment that lifts the stigma from mental health concerns.

Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program.