By Kelly Grehan
Barely a day goes by without my hearing a member of the older generation decrying the children of today:
“We never used to sit in on devices all day”
“All they want to do is stare at screens”
“We used to spend all day outside.”
It is as if children today are of a different species from their senior relatives, who speak of some sort of famous five style childhood.
While I strongly suspect their memories of the past are somewhat rose tinted I also strongly suspect one reason children do not play outside is that they simply are not welcome.
In my own area (Dartford), many of the green spaces we played on in the early 90s are now occupied with signs saying things such as ‘no ball games’ or ‘this is not a play area’ and have been filled in with bushes to stop any fun activity taking place.
Although we are fortunate to have several good parks in our area, taking children to the park is a time consuming business and not one that can be done every evening for most children.
When children used to ‘play out’ the benefits were multiple: children made friends with the same children who shared their streets, developing close bonds, isolation was therefore less, the feeling of belonging, and community was embedded and the benefits of being outdoors are well known.
Dozens of studies from around the world show regular time outdoors produces significant improvements in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fighting obesity, improved learning ability, and creativity and better emotional well being.
Unstructured play in the outdoors has also been shown to boost problem-solving skills, focus and self-discipline. Socially, it improves cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness.
However, the disconnect with nature is now so strong that more children are taken to hospital having fallen out of bed than out of a tree.
In fact one fifth of all children report never having ever attempted to climb a tree and a similar number have never visited a farm.
And it not just outdoor space often denied to children now, with libraries lost in many towns along with community centres, church halls and youth clubs, for those whose parents are unable to afford expensive activity groups childhood can often be a lonely and boring time.
This is coupled with the fact increasing numbers of children are now living in overcrowded accommodation and so, do not even have the luxury of being able to play imaginative games inside.
What are we doing to our children?
Is the epidemic of mental health and anxiety problems in the young a coincidence?
I say a community ignoring the needs of children is no community at all.
New housing estates seem to be built on the premise that grass verges are all the public green space that is needed.
How about a space based along the idea of a village green in the centre?
How about spaces which encourage den building and where ball games are encouraged?
What is the worse that could happen?
Maybe the odd window will be broken, perish the thought, but I tell you this, it is much easier and cheaper to fix broken windows than broken adults who are the result of miserable childhoods.
Our children have enough problems to contend with poverty, exams, school work, peer pressure, cyber bullying and knowing they are growing up in a world where they are likely to be worse off than their parents. Trying to keep them from public spaces is just another way we fail to enrich them.
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