Play and leisure

Play and leisure | | Movimento Globale per i Diritti dell’Infanzia

Play and leisure
Every child has the right to play and recreational activities appropriate to his or her age, to leisure and rest, to take an active part in cultural and artistic life.
Art. 31
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Play is an essential dimension of children’s development and well-being. Play and recreation promote the development of creativity, empathy, self-confidence, autonomy, physical, social, cognitive and emotional skills as well as participation in social life.

Scientific evidence underlines the importance of play in child development in general and of the brain in particular in the first years of life. Through their involvement in play and recreational activities, children learn through practice, explore and experience the world around them, develop new ideas, roles and experiences and, in so doing, learn to mediate, find emotional balance, resolve conflicts and make decisions.

Involvement in the cultural life of a community is also an important element in the development of children’s sense of belonging. They take on and practice the cultural and artistic life of their family, community and society and, through this process, discover and form their own sense of identity.

Digital technologies have changed the way we play. Today, particularly in the global north, boys and girls play cards, play football, learn their first cooking recipes and meet new friends, all in most cases, through a screen. Today, digital technologies are indispensable tools for communication, relationships and learning. They satisfy basic needs, offer opportunities for growth, participation and can contribute to the realisation of their rights, enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, it is necessary for adults to accompany and guide children in the responsible use of digital tools, contributing to the understanding of digital environments and protection from possible forms of child exploitation.

In fact, recent studies show that more than two hours a day spent in front of the screen is associated with more depressive symptoms, lower school performance, loss of sleep and physical fitness. Analysis of a large sample of young people aged between 2 and 17 in the United States showed that more time in front of the screen is associated with lower well-being: less curiosity, self-control and emotional stability; more anxiety and depressive symptoms.

A recent study1 found that boys and girls who spend most of their time in front of a screen, i.e. a two-dimensional device, surfing social media, tend to develop less ability to recognise emotions in the faces of others, lower social skills and build few quality friendships.

A study commissioned by the European Commission2 to assess how a sample of boys, girls and adolescents aged between 9 and 16 years used the Internet, highlighted that more than 60% of them had a profile on a social network (in 32% of cases completely public) and that 6% of them felt upset by some online experience.

In Italy, according to research from 2018,3 eight out of ten children between the ages of three and five know how to use their parents’ mobile phones, 30% of parents use smartphones to calm their youngest during their first year of life and 70% from their second year.

Gender roles have a strong impact on play. Indeed, domestic and family responsibilities, protective concerns on the part of parents, lack of appropriate conditions and cultural attitudes that impose limits on girls’ expectations and behaviour can diminish their opportunities to enjoy the rights affirmed in Article 31, particularly in adolescence. Moreover, gender differentiation in the forms of children’s play, sometimes reinforced by parents and educators, the media and commercial toy and game manufacturers, still maintain traditional gender role divisions in society.4

Recent research indicates that while male toys prepare for successful performance in modern society in a wide range of professions and in various contexts, in contrast, female toys tend to steer towards the private sphere of the home and future roles as wives and mothers. Adolescent boys and girls are often discouraged from participating in shared recreational activities. Moreover, girls generally have lower participation rates in physical activities and organised games, as a result of exclusion due to the cultural or self-imposed environment, and/or due to the lack of appropriate conditions. This trend is worrying in light of the proven physical, psychological, social, intellectual benefits associated with participation in sporting activities.5

Protecting the right to play means making appropriate places and spaces available, promoting creative, protected and welcoming skills and contexts, stimulating imagination and progressive autonomy.

1 University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia

2 Net Children Go Mobile study

3 Centre for Child Health onlus and the Paediatricians’ Cultural Association

4 LUNGI, Commentary on Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Adolescent

5 MONDAY, Commentary on Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Adolescent


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Defence for Children international Italia
Sede legale e sociale: Piazza Don Andrea Gallo 5-6-7 R - 16124 Genova
Sede operativa: Via Bellucci 4-6, 16124 Genova
010 0899050