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

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - FEATURE - WORDS: LETEA CA­VAN­DER

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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.”

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