For boys, in particular, rough-and-tumble play helps teach emotional regulation, said Peter LaFreniere, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Maine, in a separate article.
Boys learn that if they want to keep their friend, they can't let things go too far or truly hurt the other child -- a skill that helps boys grow into men who keep aggression and anger in check, LaFreniere said.
"It's better to make the mistakes when you're 4," he said. "Children learn there are consequences to their actions; they learn to regulate the aggression even in the heat of the moment."
Despite a growing chorus from experts about the importance of play for kids' mental and physical well-being, research indicates the amount of time kids are playing has declined significantly.
One survey Gray cited asked a nationally representative sample of parents to keep track of their kids' activities on a randomly selected day in 1981 and another in 1997. The researchers found that 6- to 8-year olds of 1997 played about 25 percent less than that age group in 1981.
Another study from about a decade ago asked 830 U.S. mothers to compare their children's play with their own play when they were kids. While about 70 percent of the mothers reported playing outdoors daily as children, just 31 percent said their own kids did. Mothers also said when their kids played outside, they stayed outside for less time.
If anything, that trend has accelerated in the ensuing decade, Gray said.
So what's keeping kids indoors? Fear of abduction is a big one, followed by worries about kids getting hit by cars and bullies, surveys have found.
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