The Demise Of Outdoor Games: How Healthy Is It For Children?

Posted on April 14, 2012

By Madhav Gupta:

When man was a farmer- that is when Bill Gates’ and Steve Wozniak’s grandfathers were farmers- children would on a daily basis enter the outdoor world filled with fantasy and improvisation. They played alone, in pairs, or in groups. Using sticks, branches, logs, sand, water and other natural materials, they built forts and castles, ships and rockets. They used few props, and the props they used were products of their own resourcefulness.

This was until Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak had resolved to evolve the world. And humans, of course, are one of the most adaptable species.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, in his clinical report to the American Academy of Paediatrics, cited several factors that have contributed to the reduction of unstructured, child driven play, a significant one being an increasingly hurried and pressured lifestyle.

Researchers at the University of Maryland discovered that between 1981 and 2003, in a typical week children lost over nine hours of discretionary time (outdoor games) and computer use doubled.

So what I am trying to convey is that one of the primary reasons for this shift is our increasingly technological society. Though we have experienced the benefits of technology in many ways, one negative consequence of the proliferation of automated toys and gadgets is that our increasingly technological, automated society is taking us farther away from the natural world.

The affluence of middle class is yet another factor. I would treat this as an extension to Mr. Apple’s and Nintendo’s and Sony’s philanthropy towards technology. No, I am not here to criticize their achievements! Simply put, as the middle class is getting richer, their consumption power is increasing. Children are demanding all sorts of gaming consoles and not a good old skipping rope. This demand by children can also be related with parents being status conscious and children feeling peer pressure.

Just to state a countryside joke: The other night I just saw 10-years-old son of a Bangalore-based affluent couple, on his birthday, buying the latest Play Station 3. While a kid from the poor country side, on his birthday, went to his mother sheepishly and said, “Mummy mere janamdin pe elastic wali nekkar dila do na” (Mommy could you buy me shorts with an elastic this time?)

Nowadays the burden of studies have been increasing, Students end up going to tuitions from the timid class of 3. So, when a child, who would play in the open parks, is now sitting and studying from the age of 6-7, and by the time child is in high school, he/she spends 10-12 hrs studying in school and coaching institutes, leaving no time to play.

You have to be the best. Or stay with the rest! As, the scope for sportspersons is highly narrow, most kids who indulge in sports with an aim of doing well professionally, lose out gradually when they could not perform better and see no great future in this line. The sports are not taken seriously by the Youth, the main reason being the authorities- the sport authorities run by the government are providing facilities that are much below the standard of what is supposed to be given.

People may find it a lame reason, but there are parents who encourage their kids to play indoor rather than going out and play sports just because of a mindset that their child would get hurt in a rough game or may fall sick due to harsh weather conditions.

How could we bring in outdoor games in our children’s lives?
Thanks to the change in trend in modern schools. Teachers have started understanding that a sport can bring in key developments in a child than subjective studies may not be able to. Students, at least during their primary classes, are promoted to actively participate in Sports events and other organized sport camps.

Nowadays, one finds a number of organized sports groups in Tier I and Tier II cities. These are being run by State-run associations and also by yesteryear sports professionals. There has been an upward trend in parents letting their children pursue competitive sports like tennis, cricket, football, golf etc. The corporate big houses are putting in big money in various sports which makes sports a lucrative profession.

There is a campaign being started by NDTV with bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor as the Brand Ambassador and supported by Union education Minister Kapil Sibal aiming at providing marks for sports activities from the grass root level i.e. from the primary classes. So the students who are good in sports are not left behind. And if everything goes well, we will be having a subject named Sports which will be taken seriously by all.

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