Play is at the heart of Nickelodeon’s award-winning endeavors – and as children’s lives adapt to a changing world, the nature of play is shifting. Permission to Play, a global study produced under the Nickelodeon Kids and Family GPS banner, reveals how today’s children, tweens, and teens engage in play. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the report’s objectives are to contextualize the meaning of play from a global perspective, highlight the differences and common themes across all types of play, and define what a toy is.

Here are key findings from the study:

The role of play is to help kids develop individually, physically, and socially.

  • Individual development encompasses talent, creativity, self-expression, success and happiness, identity, and individuality
  • Physical development means physical fitness, cognitive skills, speech, and positive well-being
  • Social development involves socialization and interaction with others

The meaning of play is different for kids and parents. For kids, it’s plain old fun. For parents, it’s a means of boosting intelligence and creativity.

  • For parents, play fosters creativity, releases energy, provides a challenge, enhances problem-solving skills, and teaches something academic
  • Experts define it differently:  to them, play is self-directed, spontaneous, free, fun, can happen anywhere, and stimulates creativity

Kids want more freedom and outdoor playtime. But modern reality puts up many barriers to fun play.

  • The forces conspiring against spontaneous play include a focus on structured activities and play dates, an emphasis on winning, safety concerns, prioritizing academic learning, and lack of time

Play hasn’t changed among the genders. Girls still want to nurture, boys want to destroy.

  • Girls’ play involves caring for babies, flowers and gardens, cooperation, and socializing
  • For boys, play means killing enemies, guns and weapons, domination and destruction, competition, and figuring out how things work

The locations where kids play have changed: it’s happening more at home and less in public areas like playgrounds. Kids also play in a combination of virtual and real-world spaces.

  • More play is happening indoors because of a perceived lack of safety in public, as well as a decrease in playgrounds and other free outdoor play spaces in cities
  • Children’s bedrooms are becoming more technologically advanced and personalized
  • More kids are playing alone — especially those without siblings

Technology has changed how kids play. A majority of kids play video games regularly.

  • The positives: there are infinite number of digital opportunities to play; real world play can be replicated virtually; virtual play can offer new experiences not available in the real world; kids can express creativity via videos, avatars, iPad apps, etc.; and social connections can take place without face time
  • The negatives: virtual play limits social skills, offers a false sense of safety, and decreases kids’ sensitivity and ability to read social cues

Toys are defined as instruments for playing. They can take on any form as long as they facilitate play, stimulate creativity, are educational without being a chore, and offer fun and spontaneity.

  • Toys can be real, virtual, objects, technological, or traditional; they can also show content
  • As kids get older, their use of tech-based gadgets increases dramatically

While friends top the list of favored play companions, immediate family members are among kids’ most important and most loved playmates.

  • Family play has many benefits: it gives a space for parents and kids to communicate, boosts kids’ self-esteem, improves kids’ social and emotional skills, boosts creativity, improves performance at school, and in general makes kids happy
  • There are some issues, however: playing with parents gives kids fewer opportunities to learn to play alone, some parents “half-play,” some find play boring, and some just don’t have time

Families seek the best experience of being together – and play promotes it. There is opportunity in developing new toys, content, and play that deliver such experiences.

  • Freedom, fun, and safety are key
  • Play needs to be fun and spontaneous
  • Kids’ development must play a role