Kids don't go out to play often enough: Survey

By Drum Digital
22 March 2012

Modern boys and girls do not go out to play in their backyards often enough, according to a New Zealand survey of more than 700 8- to 12-year-olds, their parents and grandparents.

The children spend too much time playing computer games and watching TV instead of messing about outside with friends, said Professor Grant Schofield, director of the Auckland University of Technology's Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

Nearly half of the youngsters do not "play" - defined as unstructured activity outside of school such as an impromptu game of cricket in the garden or kicking a football around - every day.

In a foreword to the report, Schofield said children needed to "unplug" and venture into the backyard to let their imagination run wild. "Let them take some risks," he said. "Let them make mistakes. This is how they learn."

Schofield said that unstructured play was a key to healthy brain development. Active, unorganised, play was essential to help youngsters learn important life skills, develop imagination and creativity, and develop social functions and cognitive skills.

"It's better to learn about risk and consequences and controlling your emotion when you're 8 and up a tree, than when you're 18 behind the wheel of a Subaru, getting chased by the cops," he said.

"Playtime is critical to a child's development, especially for 8 to 12-year- olds, as it is a time where future social skills are shaped and foundations for strong relationships with parents, grandparents and friends are created," he said.

Schofield, who has three primary school-aged children, said findings in the survey, the first of its kind in New Zealand and sponsored by the Nestle company's beverage Milo, were "astonishing."

He said it found that nearly half of the youngsters' free time was spent plugged into TV, video games or other electronic devices. More than one-third said they turned to technology because they had run out of ideas for playing and a similar proportion said they had no-one to play with.

Ironically, Schofield told Radio New Zealand that parents spent more time with their kids today than 20-30 years ago, but most of that time was sitting in cars together.

"Good parenting for much of middle-class New Zealand is defined as shuttling or chauffeuring children to and from a bunch of after-school activities," he said. "There are much better ways to accumulate movement for kids and one of those is out in the backyard."

The survey found that 41 per cent of children were too tired after school or had too much homework to play and 42 per cent of parents said they struggled to find the time to play with their youngsters.

A mother told Radio New Zealand that it was all very well to say kids spent too much time on computers but they did a lot of school work on a computer and were often assigned homework on the computer. "That's the world they are going to grow up in," she said.

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