• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Adult-Child’s Play

The quest for balance.


October 14, 2015

I was in a bookstore the other day and was surprised to see adult coloring books. Apparently, they are becoming more and more popular. I am told that coloring eases stress for adults. A bookstore in my area even sold out.

This reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, who was a mentor to me. In this book, he argues that the electronic age, and television in particular, blurred lines between adulthood and childhood. He provided a great many examples in the book, and for the next few decades I was easily able to spot more.

I think we are moving into yet another phase now. Before, I focused more on how children were tackling adult issues earlier in their lives. Now, I see adults reverting to child’s play. In addition to the crayon example above, I’m thinking about the kickball and dodge ball teams adult friends of mine have joined. Games that were once the domain of playgrounds and neighborhood streets are now formal adult playtimes. In some workplaces, the décor and philosophy that rules is one that embraces play.

For Postman, the media age of television had ushered in the blurring of life stages, but I wonder if something new is accelerating this merging. Are the stages of childhood and adulthood becoming even harder to discern?

Perhaps the over-regimented childhood that some of these adults experienced as children has played a part. I’m thinking of the over-scheduled children who never had an opportunity to sit and color on their own, without it being part of an assignment (read: work). Maybe the shift to scheduled play dates has supplanted the possibility of a spontaneous kickball game. Are these adults craving the elements of play that they never had experienced?

Another explanation could be the change in our scientific notion of when adulthood emerges. New studies reinforce that the brain isn’t fully functioning until much later than previously assumed. Parents no longer sever ties at clear stages, such as the college drop-off. And, after college, it’s more common for kids to move back into their parents’ home.

At the same time that adults’ leisure time has begun to mimic child’s play, children’s leisure time is also starting to take on more adult features. In fact, one of the things I don’t like about all these organized sports and games that my children are encouraged to participate in is that it starts to feel too much like work. My children have to get up early to attend a scheduled activity, and sometimes practice in advance of the next scheduled one. I recently read a note about a volunteer activity we are a part of, and by the time my daughter and I were done reading, we both felt the stress that I usually associate with my own work. I began to question whether we are setting up children at a very young age to ignore spontaneous downtime and fun?

These new types of adult play may be a reminder that our sense of work-life balance is off, and we need to think of ways to restore that balance. Maybe coloring books are the short-term answer, but I think we need some longer-term solutions as well.


Back to Top