Ban­ish bore­dom blues with play­time

Too much time in­doors on a screen makes kids fat and un­happy

The Gympie Times - - READ - BY Letea Ca­van­der Na­ture Play is an or­gan­i­sa­tion ded­i­cated to mak­ing out­side play a nor­mal part of child­hood again.

APLAY ex­pert wants us to re-de­fine 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.

And the num­ber of over­weight chil­dren in Aus­tralia is worse than the OECD av­er­age.

Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Health and Wel­fare fig­ures for 2014–2015, 25% of Aussie kids aged be­tween two and 17 were over­weight or obese.

Na­ture Play chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Grif­fin Lon­g­ley said out­side ac­tion was cru­cial to low­er­ing stress lev­els in chil­dren.

“Aus­tralian chil­dren are in the grips of a men­tal health epi­demic and obe­sity epi­demic,” he said.

“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.

Mr Lon­g­ley, who has been with the or­gan­i­sa­tion since 2010, also in­vited par­ents to re-imag­ine what the words “I’m bored” meant.

“It sends us into a panic,” he said.

“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 pre-con­di­tion to cre­ativ­ity.”

He said many of us had con­fused en­ter­tain­ment with play. “En­ter­tain­ment is pre-for­mu­lated and pas­sive and we can’t con­trol the out­comes of it,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Lon­g­ley said chil­dren may need help re-defin­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween play and en­ter­tain­ment.

What the kids are re­ally say­ing is ‘I’m about to do some­thing in­ter­est­ing’. Bore­dom is the pre-con­di­tion to cre­ativ­ity

Par­ents could 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, said judg­ing a good amount of screen time for kids de­pended on a few fac­tors.

First was what they were do­ing on the de­vice, sec­ond was who they were do­ing it with, and the third fac­tor was the amount of time spent on de­vices.

For ex­am­ple, play­ing with sib­lings while us­ing an app on a

smart­phone or tablet was bet­ter than spend­ing time on the de­vice alone.

“Time-wise it also de­pends on the age of the child,” Dr Green­field said.

He said in many house­holds, screen time was an ex­pec­ta­tion rather than a re­ward for chores done or other goals achieved.

Most im­por­tantly, it was im­por­tant to lay down bound­aries when it came to de­vice us­age.

When and how much screen time de­pended on the house­hold.

“At the end of the day, the par­ents have to be in con­trol,” Dr Green­field said.

“You’re the par­ent, you are the one pay­ing for the data or de­vice.

“You have ul­ti­mate say, re­gard­less of the age of the child.” Chil­dren also needed to know there were con­se­quences for break­ing the rules.

Pun­ish­ment might 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,” Dr Green­field said.

“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 said par­ents could dis­cuss rules with older chil­dren, but ul­ti­mately it was up to the adult to set and en­force the bound­aries.

Mr Lon­g­ley also ad­vo­cated bal­anc­ing screen time with play. “The num­ber one thing is bal­ance,” Mr Lon­g­ley said. “The amount of time the kids spend on screens needs to be bal­anced with be­ing out­side and be­ing ac­tive.

“It’s not about ab­sti­nence.” For more in­for­ma­tion go to na­ture­play.org.au.

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

PHOTO: MONKEYBUSINESSIMAGES

Chil­dren might need help in un­der­stand­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween en­ter­tain­ment and play.

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