Ever wondered how, when we were growing up, our Outdoor games were so different than the games that our children play today? Seven Stones (Pittu Garam), street cricket, hockey, football, Kho Kho, to name a few, were the games that we remember playing during my childhood and weren’t those the most exciting days of our lives. Isn’t it a little worrying that our children today are spending far too much time by just staying indoors like couch potatoes with little to no activity and only playing graphic-rich video games on computers, spending almost no time in the lap of mother nature?
Researches in the past have shown that today our children spend far less than even four hours per week playing outdoor games, which is a difference in daylight when compared to how much time an average toddler would spend three decades ago. According to studies, back in the 1990s, in India, a child would spend an average of 10 hours a week in physical activities outside the home. Yet another study conducted by UK Government has shown that one-tenth of our children do not get exposed to any natural environment at all, like forests, playgrounds, parks, or beaches, which in itself is a very scary proportion.
In the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a study conducted by Seattle Children’s Research Institute has shown that almost half of the toddlers do not get even single parent-supervised outdoor activity a day. The study further brings out in light another alarming discovery that children between the age of 10 and 16 are getting only 13 minutes of rigorous outdoor activity a day out of 11 hours of awake time.
So, aren’t we bringing up an entire generation of lazy sedentary little ones who are spending most of their playtime in front of the tablets and mobile phones playing PUBG or Xbox whereas they should be in the open grasslands of earth embracing the mud and the soil?
Why should it concern us?
Though there are also virtues in our children staying at home and not venturing out in the open as we feel secure that they are safer at home playing these computer games while letting all the creative juices run through their bodies, yet there are other real benefits of outdoor plays, which they are surely missing upon. Where is the balance between the two?
Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children
Physically Healthier Children
According to the WHO fact sheet published on its official website in April 2020, obesity in 2020 had increased three times among the world population since 1976. Around 39% of adults aged 18 or above worldwide were overweight in 2016, and 38 million children who were 5 years or below suffered obesity in 2019. Those numbers are staggering. Lack of outdoor activities in combination with majorly a sedentary lifestyle is held responsible for this state of energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories burnt. We do not need any studies to tell us the contribution of outdoor playtime in children in helping to burn out calories and thus preventing obesity.
Outdoor activities like running, jumping, hopping, tugging, pulling, pushing, catching, etc., strengthen fine motor skills. The physicality involved in them strengthens muscles and the bones and provides our children opportunities to develop their athletic abilities. Furthermore, exposure to the sun helps get all the necessary vitamin D required for stronger bones and better resistance against chronic diseases. There are further pieces of evidence to suggest that exposure to the sun helps also prevent nearsightedness.
Benefits cognitive abilities and help develop social skills
Children who play outdoors develop stronger observation skills and reasoning abilities. They become inventive and they explore and learn from the unstructured outdoor setup. While they play with other children outdoors, they learn sharing and other positive behavioral skills. Being in an open environment with friends and peers around them brings awareness and improves communication. Since being outside, they get exposed to the unprotected environment and are on their own; they become self-reliant and less dependent for support. Children who have more exposure to playing outdoors are self-directed and more curious whereas children who are mostly indoors and have so little exposure to activities show decreased abilities to initiate participation.
Why are our children playing less outside?
Easy digital mediums of entertainment at home. Yes! digitization is a big headline here. One of the biggest reasons why children are staying indoors for entertainment is the bombardment of alternative digital mediums of entertainment. There is the easy availability of cutting-edge online games and social media platforms on mobile phones. Just too many diversions are available online to keep our children’s minds diverted from outdoor play.
Other personal and professional stressors in the lives of general parents also tantalizingly force them to go lenient toward their children when they are themselves having a great time with these online entertainment mediums. These stressors influence the parent’s desire that they can steal a little breather from distresses by not having to take their children outside.
The increasing value of land: To a large extent, lack of space to play freely has also contributed to keeping our children in the house. The enormous financial pressures on builders and landscapers have led them to leave little space for playgrounds or other play areas in their architectural designs. Every inch of land has to be used to make maximum profits, thus by giving more importance to building new office spaces and apartments on the land rather than play areas for children.
Overprotective Attitude of Parents and Caretakers. We cannot entirely blame technology and realtors for the demise of children’s play areas. According to research by National Children’s Bureau in the UK, the “fear of strangers” has prevented schoolers, parents, and all those involved with children’s care and welfare from letting their wards venture outside. This fear, though to some extent justified, is majorly driven by the way reporting is done by overzealous media and its overall impact on children’s caregivers.
Also, the schools and day-care services tend to play safe. They fear legal proceedings by parents against them in case of negligence toward the child.
As much as it is a truth, it is also equally sad that our children have to pay for our overprotecting and escapist attitude. Though it might look like protecting our children, in disguise, the care and protection in an overindulgent way are going to make them less independent and ill-prepared for the future.
What to do? How to give greater outdoors to our kids to play?
As if the overwhelming takeover of our lives by digitization was not enough, the global pandemic of Coronavirus has further pushed the world indoors, and although it has added to the severity of the challenge, doing nothing is the way to nothing. We can do our bit by some easy and uncomplicated steps to motivate our children outdoors.
Set boundaries on the use of digital mediums and gazettes at home. And it starts with breaking the habit of easy allowance to switching on TV at home. Parents can put rationing in place on the use of digital mediums and may also incorporate it in some sort of a timetable with some rewards tied to adherence to it.
Since we have now taken some part of our children’s indoor digital fun away from their lives by putting checks on it, let us replace it with some attractive and adventurous playing activities outdoors. Let us tell our children that it’s okay to get dirty and messy. Give them your backyard to get wet and have all the fun. If you do not have a backyard, arrange weekly outdoor play dates for children. Plan it in a way that their friends can join in, and if your child feels the rush of adrenaline by climbing a tree, let him do that. Let him jump off a reasonable height. Let us not be overprotective.
Agreed that it is quite natural to feel protective towards them, but we should never underestimate the resilience and toughness of our children. A few bruises and scrapes here and there along the way are never going to harm them. It is all part and parcel of their growing up.
There is nothing wrong with setting rules for outdoor plays as well but you can never cover up all risks even if you try to. Let the children make their own mistakes and come out learning from their failures. Of course, very young children are going to need supervision, but for the grown-ups, if we trust them to be safe outside on their own, it is a great boost for their self-confidence. It is a badge of you acknowledging their achievements and that they are being trusted. Let’s pause and remember how beautiful those movements were when we were growing up; those are the moments we cherish forever, and the dangers outdoor have not changed a lot compared to they were then. Rather than digitally online by just being at home, there are perils waiting for our children. Mind the easily available difficult-to-censor content available online, which your child may fall prey to.