In 1966, a man named Charles Whitman shot his wife and mother. Then, he climbed up the tower at the University of Texas in Austin, and shot 46 people. In total, he murdered 16 people.
Dr. Stuart Brown and his team of researchers were commissioned to find out what “The Texas Sniper” had in common with other mass murderers.
They found the key when they looked at their childhoods. Brown recalls:“None of them engaged in healthy rough-and-tumble play. The linkages that lead to Charles Whitman producing this crime was an unbelievable suppression of play behavior throughout his life by a very over-bearing, very disturbed father.”
There is a simple solution to prevent mass shootings:
Play. Allow children to have free unsupervised play. Encourage people to spend more time having fun with each other, for no reason or purpose. Make recess breaks at your school or company mandatory. Stop forcing work. Stop suppressing play.
This is in alignment with Dr. Peter Gray’s research, who’s studied the rise of mental illness and the decline in play:“Over the past half century, in the United States and other developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults… The decline in play has contributed to the rise in the psychopathology of young people. Play functions as the major means by which children (1) develop intrinsic interests and competencies; (2) learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules; (3) learn to regulate their emotions; (4) make friends and learn to get along with others as equals; and (5) experience joy. Through all of these effects, play promotes mental health.”
Due to the pressures of standardized testing, over 40% of school districts in the U.S. have cut back on recess. This means less time playing, which means an unhealthier nation.
Play suppression is a socially acceptable form of child abuse, with enormous consequences.
When you deprive mammals of play, it leads to chronic depression. When you deprive a human child of play, their mental and emotional health deteriorates. A lack of play results in a joyless, lonely child with few friends and no sense of belonging.
And then, these children grow up to be isolated adults who lash out.
Simon Sinek offered similar insights on Glenn Beck:“We’re seeing a rise of loneliness and isolation. No one kills themselves when they’re hungry; we kill ourselves when we’re lonely. And we act out, as well. In the 1960’s, there was one school shooting. In the 1980’s, there were 27. In the 1990’s, there were 58. In the past decade, there have been over 120.It has nothing to do with guns, it has to do with people feeling lonely.How do we combat the loneliness that kids are feeling? All of them attacked people in their own community, and all of them attack people they blamed for their own loneliness.”
There is one way to produce a sense of belonging, a sense of community.
It’s free, it’s easy, it’s fun. It just needs to be allowed.
Legalize recess. Give kids permission to play.
It could prevent the next public shooting.