SWITCH OFF AND FIND THE FUN
SCHOOL HOLIDAYS ARE HERE. INSTEAD OF FEARING THE INEVITABLE “I’M BORED” CHORUS, EXPERTS SAYS IT’S TIME TO REDISCOVER THE JOYS OF OUTDOOR PLAY
play expert wants us to redefine the term “I’m bored” in a bid to stem the mental health and obesity epidemic gripping Aussie kids.
And a child psychologist is urging parents to take charge of children’s digital devices.
Statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development make for grim reading. Right now, in OECD countries including Australia, more than one in two adults and nearly one in six children are overweight or obese.
Nature Play chief executive officer Griffin Longley says outside action is crucial to lowering stress levels in children.
“Australian children are in the grips of a mental health epidemic and obesity epidemic,” he says.
“One of the key things being outside does is lower stress levels.
“The stress hormone cortisol falls through the floor as soon as we’re outside.”
Nature Play was created by the West Australian government in 2010. It then became an independent organisation that has spread to Queensland, South Australia and the ACT.
The organisation aims to make outdoor play a normal part of childhood again.
Instead of succumbing to school holiday cabin fever, Griffin invites parents to re-imagine what the words “I’m bored” mean. “It sends us into a panic,” he says. “And for the first time in human history we have a way of plugging that moment ... we can plug it with an iPad or iPhone.
“What the kids are really saying is ‘I’m about to do something interesting’. Boredom is the precondition to creativity.”
He says many of us have confused entertainment with play.
“Entertainment is pre-formulated and passive and we can’t control the outcomes of it,” he says.
“Digital entertainment deserves to be called play in the same way as colouring in deserves to be called art.
“Kids need time to make stuff up and make stuff-ups. It breeds creativity and resilience.”
Griffin says children may need help redefining the difference between play and entertainment.
Parents can encourage them to go outside and give them props — something as simple as cardboard and tape — to kickstart their imaginations. Child psychologist Andrew Greenfield, who has been working with toddlers, children and adolescents for more than 20 years, says judging a good amount of screen time for kids depended on a few factors.
The first is what they were doing on the device, second is who they were doing it with, and the third factor is the amount of time spent on devices.
For example, playing with siblings while using an app on a smartphone or tablet is better than spending time on the device alone.
“Time-wise it also depends on the age of the child,” Andrew says.
“At the end of the day, the parents have to be in control. You’re the parent, you are the one paying for the data or device.”
Children also need to know there are consequences for breaking the rules.
Punishment may include stopping or limiting data, disabling the wireless functionality on the device or restricting the use of apps.
“The technology (for punishment) can be quite clever, but it’s not about all or nothing,” Andrew says.
“To me the main things are those limits, and you have clear rules so you don’t have an argument every single time.
“It’s also about being clear on what happens when a child breaks those rules.”
The psychologist says parents can discuss rules with older children, but ultimately it is up to the adult to set and enforce the boundaries.
Griffin also advocates balancing screen time with play. “The No. 1 thing is balance,” he says. “The amount of time the kids spend on screens needs to be balanced with being outside and being active.
“It’s not about abstinence.”