Children need time to play

WHEN I was a child, my brother and I used to spend hours in our garden which was filled with fruit trees.

We put in some planks in a rambutan tree and the higher plank was my brother’s “tree house”, while the plank on the lower branches was mine. We didn’t always want to be in the garden, but our parents threw us out in the evening, and if we couldn’t find anything to do, we had to run around the house the same number of times as our age.

Nowadays, seeing children playing outdoors is a rarity. Oh yes, I know, different generations live differently, blah blah blah, but look what the World Health Organisation has just released: “Children under five must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy”.

The media release continues: “Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life ... Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups”.

Call me cynical, but I don’t think Malaysian parents in general are really going to care about this. How many times have you seen parents put a nice little tablet in front of their kid in the restaurant to “entertain” her, while they busy themselves on their mobile phones? Is it even funny that there have been memes circulating over the last weekend, wishing iPads and tablets a Happy Mother’s Day?

Of course, a nice bungalow in the suburbs isn’t as affordable as it used to be during my parents’ time. But still, most high density living situations have little playgrounds or some greenery for their residents. I don’t live in a bungalow anymore but I am often in the little playground by the second block of my apartments. The only living things there are plants, me and a bunch of cats. I don’t see young children playing there, supervised or otherwise.

For my fitness clients, I always encourage them to go for walks after dinner. If they have dogs, I encourage them to walk their dogs. But seriously, in light of all this, why not go for walks with your children? I do recall when we had Rukun Tetangga, my mother, my brother and I used to walk my father up to the little Rukun Tetangga pondok after dinner.

The thing is, play is important, for everyone, but crucially for small children. An article in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss, entitled, “The decline of play in preschoolers and the rise in sensory issues” claims that children now “are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat ... were frequently falling out of their seats ..., and running into each other and even the walls”.

It appears that iPads, tablets, and an academic-based manner of learning are making robots of our children. Strauss points out, “If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences ... They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, use poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions.”

But seriously, do we really need WHO and articles from the Washington Post to tell us that children need time to play? That removal of movement, activity and play in their younger life will have adverse effects on them in later life?

Maybe set some time for play for both yourself and your children. Not only will your total health get better, but your relationship will grow stronger.

Daniel is enthusiastic about fitness, yoga and writing. Comments: