Is less time outdoors severely detrimental to the physical and emotional wellbeing of children?
Children used to play outdoors all of the time, in parks, in the streets, practically anywhere but the house and no one was worried about them. But now we are ever more worried about children’s safety and technology came to the rescue of parents wanting to keep their children indoors so as to be able to keep an eye on them; first TV then games consoles and the internet provide lots of indoor entertainment. But should we be reversing this trend and letting them out more for their physical and emotional wellbeing?
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Children need to exercise to improve health
With so few children playing in the outdoors, going for walks and bike riding; is it any wonder that the children of our time are becoming increasingly obese? With 68% of children playing outside less than once a week and 28% of children not being for a country walk in the last year[[http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/16/childre-nature-outside-play-health]], how can we expect our children to be anything other than obese? Exercise is a vital part of health; it is essential, and currently, our children are not getting enough.
Whilst exercise is essential, this argument fails to state why outside unsupervised play should be promoted. Children exercise whilst at school. They not only have compulsory physical education, they also have play times whereby they run around and play with the other children. Why should we then have to place our child in danger when they get home in order for them to exercise? Why can parents and children not do something together? This way both adults and children are getting the benefit of the exercise.
Children need to learn to look after own safety in the outdoors
It is a fact that children will eventually have to leave the nest. Like birds, we must allow our children to practice in the outside world alone. Mother birds allow their nestlings to fly; how will they learn if we do not let them attempt. If we do not do this, what we will be left with is children who cannot look after themselves. These children will walk in front of cars, they will begin to hang around the wrong areas of town and they will no be able to leave the nest safely. We need to let them learn at a young age so that when it comes to flying the nest they are well prepared.
There is no statistical basis for this argument. In fact, quite to the contrary, child related road accidents have decreased. Reported child casualties fell by 8 per cent. The number of children killed or seriously injured in 2008 was 2,807 (down 9 per cent on 2007). Of those, 1,784 were pedestrians, 6 per cent down on 2007. 124 children died on the roads, 2 per cent higher than in the previous year, when the lowest ever child fatality figure of 121 was recorded.[[ http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/accidents/casualtiesmr/rcgbmainresults2008%5D%5D With the figures falling year on year, it shows that not allowing our children out to play is actually reducing the number of child/traffic accidents. But they are unhealthy and will die young due to being unfit and overweight.
Children need to be exposed to germs
It is not of coincidence that the rate of diagnosis for allergies is increasing along with the number of children who do not play outside, this includes hay fever [[http://www.hesonline.nhs.uk/Ease/ContentServer?siteID=1937&categoryID=888]]. The fact is that the human immune system learns how to cope with germs and different materials in our early years. It is for this reason that breast feeding is encouraged [[http://debatewise.org/debates/2203-it-should-be-compulsory-for-all-mothers-to-breastfeed-for-the-first-six-months-of-their-babies-lives]]. Not only does the mother’s natural immunity pass to the child, but s does any germs she is harbouring. That way the child taken in germs in small doses and the body learn how to deal with these germs. If we do not allow our children out to play, they will not come into contact with as much pollen and therefore their body will not learn how to cope with that pollen hence an allergy to pollen in later life.
Actually, scientifically, allergies are hereditary. At birth, the immune system switches to be either allergy prone (TH2) or non-allergy prone (TH1), depending on genetics and environment. TH1 immunity is good for fighting bacteria and viruses, and protecting against allergies. TH2 immunity is good at fighting parasite infections, but makes us more vulnerable to develop allergies. Some families are genetically more likely to develop the TH2 immunity. [[http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/in_depth/allergies/aboutallergies_what.shtml]] Therefore it is not the environment that is causing the allergy but our genes. The increase in allergies can be put down to increased awareness or environmental change.
Children need to socialise with other children
If a child is not outdoors,. What are they doing? They are sitting in with the family, or watching TV or playing some social skill killing computer game. Children need to learn not only how to have a relationship with their family, but also how to have a relationship outside of that unit. Children need to play with friends. They need to learn to communicate with people who are different to them. They need to meet different people. At school they will typically meet similar children from the same area, outside of school; they have the opportunity to learn how to socialise with children from different backgrounds. It is a shame that this opportunity has been wasted, as it would lead to a a more cohesive society in the future.
This is rather presumptuous. Who is to say that a child is sitting at home alone or with parents if they are at home? Parents could agree to allow children into their home if they disagree with their child being on the streets after school or during the holidays. Socialising and the outdoors are not two related concepts. Adults spend most of their socialising times inside, so why are we trying to say that children only socialise when outside?
Computer games do not kill social skills. Many games are multi-player, online or at the very least a talking point among friends. Children will also use their mobile phones, Facebook and Skype to talk to friends as well, and probably have friends outside school through the Internet.
Children need to have fun
Parents who surround their child with cotton wool and do not let them play outside are impeding a child’s fun. Childhood should not be merely about school work, family and chores. They need to be allowed the time to play outside, away from the watchful eye of adults. They need their break too. We are preventing children from doing what they naturally want to do if we prevent them from playing outside. Children long to be silly in open fields and to swing on swings and run around parks, this is the release they need. Without this measure of fun, they will be mundane children who turn into mundane adults.
Just because parents do not allow their child to roam free in the wilderness where strangers and other danger may be lurking it does not mean that the child is not having fun. There are plenty of indoor activities that are fun for children, things that children long to do; computer games being one of them. Children long to play with these games too. But like with playing outside, we need to regulate computer usage in order to ensure the child’s safety.
Children need to use their imagination
The outdoors is a window of opportunity for children to use their imagination. The tree they are climbing could be a boat troubled at sea, the stones they are throwing could be keeping the pirates out, the leaves could be their treasure. Children are naturally creative in this manner and we should not impede that. We will impede it if we only allow our children to view objects as functional rather than playful. What then happens is we buy them a computer game and all imagination disappears. In a computer game all the aspects, even the violence, is put before the child’s eyes, and no longer do they creatively think about their surroundings. But without this creativity, where is the child being stimulated intellectually and playfully?
One could argue that computer games can take the imagination of a child far and beyond that to where a tree could take a child. Of course, let us not forget that household objects can also be used imaginatively should the child wish. A hoover could be an alien, the bunk bed could be that boat (teddy bears could be the passengers). It is simply not fair to say that children who are not outside are not using their imagination.
Computer games can't actually encompass an entire world, even the ones with good enough graphics that objects realistically look like what they are supposed to be (most human characters just don't look or behave like humans). That is why people think about the world more thoroughly and 'fill in the gaps'. Games for children have very simple narratives and so there are a lot of questions unanswered.
The outdoors will supplement a child’s education
It is all very well learning in the classroom about photosynthesis and the life cycle of a bug, but how interesting is that when you do not have any first hand experience with bugs? How can we engage the students in any educational topic when they have no experience first hand as to what life is all about? Outside play puts study into perspective. It makes study more interesting and it gives children a more rounded knowledge. We not only need students who can absorb academic information, we also need students who can apply that information to the outside world.
Let us be honest, where do you think most people like? Idyllic suburbia? Afraid not, most of us are cramped into city living. We have a high density of population and the available amount of green space is limited. What will children do if allowed out to play in these conditions? The will not walk miles for the nearest nature reserve or nearest flower-some parks to search for caterpillars. They will smoke. Hang around on street corners. Graffiti over walls. Generally they will be a nuisance to society. This is the reality of the situation so is it any wonder that most parents decide to keep their child indoors?
It will encourage the study of science
Science as a subject is all about the outside world. How creatures interact, how forces interact, how chemical interact. In the outside world, children can observe animals and insects imitating their behaviour. Playing with such things they will begin to develop an interest in it. This is nothing but the study of biology in its early form. Physics; the realm of the forces and the unseen in the world. Newton discovered the realm of forces and gravity for the first time by sitting under a tree. He experienced the force first hand. If we do not allow our children to do the same, how will they ever develop an interest in physics? And is not chemistry the mixing of mud and water? Science is all about the world and how it works, how will our children ever be interested in these subjects if they have never been in the outside world alone to ponder? They will not. This has lead to the decrease in students studying sciences at higher levels beyond the National Curriculum. [[http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/news/pressreleases/2006/ceer-physics-2.html]] [[http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldselect/ldsctech/257/25705.htm]]
The statistics quite simply do not back your conclusions. If we have a look. Whilst there was a drop between 1998-2001 in the number of students studying science, numbers have now returned to the levels of 1996, if not surpassed those levels [[http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldselect/ldsctech/257/25705.htm]]. Even if it were the case that less people were studying the sciences it could be because there are more choices on offer at A level these days. More modern subjects are emerging. Also, more practical A levels are surfacing. Therefore, the drop in the proportion of students studying science is the result of there being a higher amount of subjects for the students to be dispersed upon
Nature encourages mental wellbeing
The University of Essex conducted a study that revealed that just 5 minutes of out door play a day can dramatically improve a child’s mental well being and their self esteem [[http://www.essex.ac.uk/ces/esu/occasionalpapers/GreenExercise.pdf]]. Given the increase in mental disorders that are being diagnosed, perhaps this is the solution; outdoor play. Biologist E.O. Wilson [[Wilson, 1984; Kellert and Wilson, 1993]] stated that as humans have co-existed with nature for many years, we feel an innate relationship to it. When deprived of that innate relationship, our mental stability decreases.
Most kidnappings by child molesters and the like take place in parks, fields and other nature-related-public-places.
It just isn't safe for children to play outside anymore.
Being kidnapped, needless to state; is not good for a child's mental well-being and can be very psychologically traumatic.
Of the stranger danger
As parents, the natural instinct is to protect your offspring; especially against the hunting hands of others. But when we allow children outside to play, supervised or not, other people may take advantage of the situation. S a society, we no longer know all our neighbours, we are no longer tight knit. Therefore, people go past undetected and harm is more likely to occur. We have all too many cases of children being harmed by strangers and by allowing our children out to play we are exposing them to that kind of danger. Look at the abuse Kate and Gerry McCann got for leaving their children. Society is outraged when a parent’s laxing of the rules results in a child’s harm and yet it is all too willing to encourage us to do so ‘for the benefit of our child’. This is a clear paradox that parents cannot win.
And so we have to make it safer to play outside; playing in the garden/back-yard of your home can be particularly safe.
Having a greenhouse/garden(even if it's restricted to pots in your kitchen window); and letting children help you grow plants; also brings them close to nature without compromising their safety.
Children have reasons to want to stay indoors.
The reason children didn't used to stay indoors is that there was nothing to do indoors and at least something they can do outdoors. Indoors, children can watch TV, read books, play computer games and chat with friends on the phone. Work hours are generally less so parents spend more time with their children at home instead of ignoring them. They are also sheltered from the elements, have a steady supply of food and water and won't be attacked by bullies. More people live in the inner city now than in the country so it isn't as safe for them because of traffic and crime and there is less to do that doesn't involve spending money.
What do you think?