Murderers and the benefits of play in child development

What makes people do bad things?

I’ve been talking all week about how adding play to your routine can enrich your entire life.

However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, limiting play (and expression of individuality) throughout a person’s life can have serious detrimental, even fatal, effects on the human psyche.

Charlie Whitman is a good example.  Back in 1966 he killed 16 people and wounded 32 others in a mass shooting rampage at the University of Texas.

To most people, he was normal.  He was an Eagle Scout, an excellent pianist, and by all outward appearances, a handsome young man with a promising future. But, after examining Charlie’s childhood, Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist working with the FBI to identify a common link between serial killers and mass murders, noticed there was one major aspect missing in his upbringing – independent play.

He never made his own decisions about what he wanted to do and how he wanted to play. His abusive father controlled his every move – forced him into the piano and into Eagle Scouts, sculpting the “perfect son” as he saw it in his head rather than having his son forge his own path and find his own play landscape.

According to Dr. Brown, “The multiple options found in a free-flowing imagination, which occur spontaneously in a naturally playful, safely nurtured child, were not available. The open exchanges that begin in preschool parallel play, the broadening spectrum of give-and-take offered in pick-up games, and the variety of choices that more intricate play provides were not his to experience.”

Charlie never got pleasure out of the things he did during his life… and the results were devastating.

This isn’t, of course, something I think will happen to you if you don’t bring more play back into your life.  I’m simply sharing it with you to show how deep this play movement goes.

Dr. Brown went on to discover other compelling links between play in murderers and play in animals and in the end makes a very solid argument for fixing all life’s problems with more play.

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