In this digital age it’s critical that we don’t let technology dominate our children’s lives as they develop. Don’t let tablets and videos dictate how our children are raised, let them learn about the physical aspects of this world first.
Get them playing outdoors, exploring the backyard or get them playing indoors with toys that will help develop motor skills, problem solving and creative abilities.
According to a recent study of two thousand parents and their children, only 21% of the children played out today in comparison to 71% of the parents who had in their childhood. That’s a huge decrease in numbers when you stop to think of how much you enjoyed playing out with your friends and also the importance of doing so. Worryingly 64% of children play out less than once a week, 21% have not been on a country walk in a year, 21% have never been to a farm and more children go to hospital for falling out of bed than for falling out of trees.
Many factors contribute to children not playing out anymore or as much as they did including safety. Parents today are becoming more and more afraid to let their children out unsupervised due to fear of them being abducted by strangers or even being hurt in a traffic accident with the ever-busying roads. Child abduction, however, no matter how scary it may seem and the frequency we may think it happens with is actually a very minimal risk taken in allowing our children to play outside. The chances of this actually happening, in fact, have not increased since the seventies and still remain one in a million. Road safety, on the other hand, is a very valid concern but one that can be addressed by teaching our children road safety in a similar way to the campaigns we saw regularly again in the seventies and even in the eighties.
Other contributing factors to our children not playing outside include technological developments such as computer gaming and a huge increase in the amount of children’s television that is produced and aired. As an example of this phenomenon of indoor play, the average child spends seventeen hours a week watching TV and twenty hours a week online. Gone are the days when being sent to the bedroom as a child was a punishment and here are the days when it is a reward!
This indoor lifestyle none the less is not good for children and people need to understand how important to a child’s physical, educational and emotional welfare outdoor play is. For example, on a physical level it is estimated that three in ten children between the ages of two and fifteen are obese or overweight and could be possibly suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. This can cause rickets, short-sightedness and asthma. On top of this lack of outdoor physical exercise can result in a major decline in cardio-respiratory fitness, problems with the heart and lungs.
From an educational point of view children who play outside are far more likely to learn the benefits of teamwork, communication and leadership whilst building good attitudes, self-belief and perception. Fitness, behavior and social actions are also more likely to develop well. As Stephen Moss, a naturalist says ‘Nature is a tool, to get children to experience not just the wider world but themselves. So climbing a tree is about learning how to take responsibility for yourself, and how crucially – to measure risk for yourself. Falling out of a tree is a very good lesson in risk and reward.’
Emotionally lack of outdoor play has been linked to the fact that one in ten children aged between five and sixteen are thought to be suffering from mental health disorders, leading to one in twelve self-harming. It is estimated that over thirty-five thousand children in England are at this moment on anti-depressants. Richard Louv, who has been studying the effects on children of having no outdoor playtime and wrote a book on this entitled ‘Last child in the woods’ calls this problem nature-deficit disorder and although this is not a medical diagnosis, it is a real problem.
Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature including a lack of focus, problem-solving skills, self-discipline, cooperation, flexibility, self-awareness, aggression and happiness. Of happiness in outside play TV presenter and naturalist Nick Baker says ‘you’ll never forget your first badger – just as you’ll never remember your highest score on a computer game – no matter how important it seemed at the time.’
Switching to a personal point of view, I remember playing out as being an intrinsic part of my childhood and a building platform for my adult life. As an example, it is when I first learnt to build friendships without the constant supervision and intervention of adults when things went wrong. I also just plain loved playing out with all its games such as rounder’s, tin can alley and hide and seek and I cannot imagine my childhood without recalling days I played out with my friends as being some of the happiest times.
I can also say that I am the parent of a child who was encouraged to play out and I believe my child benefited from it wholeheartedly. Yes, there were some worrying moments when she fell over or got stung by a bee but never once did I believe she would have been better off for staying in.
It is now high time for us to be trying to change the attitudes of the adults who do not see the importance of their kids playing out. It may be an easier life to just allow them to camp out in their rooms watching TV where we know they are safe and occupied, but we are allowing and encouraging a shift in human behavior that is not for the good with this. If we do not change this and change this soon we are more than definitely harming, however unintentionally the futures of our children.