16 October 2013

Nature deficit disorder

A report on Natural Childhood by Britain's National Trust (Britain's greatest attraction) talks about the changed lifestyle of children. It is an interesting read, so worth sharing some quotes:

Until quite recently, if a child was sent to their bedroom during daylight hours, it was because they had been behaving badly.
Today, things are very different. The average child’s bedroom is no longer a place of punishment, but an entertainment hub: the epicentre of their social lives. Here they can access the outside world via their mobile phone, TV or computer screen; or immerse themselves in a beguiling fantasy world of computer games, whose scenarios are so convincing that children sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between this ‘virtual reality’ andthe real world. ...
Statistics confirm the widespread perception that our nation’s children have a largely screen-based lifestyle:
  • On average, Britain’s children watch more than 17 hours of television a week: that’s almost two-and-a-half hours per day, every single day of the year. Despite the rival attractions of the Internet, this is up by 12% since 2007.
  • British children are also spending more than 20 hours a week online, mostly on social networking sites.
  • As children grow older, their ‘electronic addictions’ increase. Britain’s 11–15-year-olds spend about half their waking lives in front of a screen: 7.5 hours a day, an increase of 40% in a decade.
The growth of virtual, as opposed to reality-based, play is, not surprisingly, having a profound effect on children’s lives; indeed, it has been called ‘the extinction of experience’... 
There is evidence to suggest that this sedentary, indoor lifestyle is having profound consequences for our children’s health:
  • Around three in ten children in England aged between two and 15 are either overweight or obese. The proportion classified as obese increased dramatically from 1995 to 2008: rising from 11% to almost 17% in boys, and from 12% to 15%
  • Other physical health problems on the increase include vitamin D deficiency, leading to a major rise in the childhood disease rickets; short-sightedness; and asthma.
  • There has also been a reduction in children’s ability to do physical tasks such as sit-ups, producing ‘a generation of weaklings’; and a major decline in children’scardiorespiratory (heart and lung) fitness, of almost 10% in just one decade.
  • One in ten children aged between five and 16 have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder.
    • One in 12 adolescents are self-harming.
    • About 35,000 children in England are being prescribed anti-depressants
Children told researchers that their happiness is dependent on having time with a stable family and plenty of things to do, especially outdoors, rather than on owning technology or branded clothes. Despite this, one of the most striking findings is that parents in the UK said they felt tremendous pressure from society to buy material goods for their children; this pressure was felt most acutely in low-income homes.  

 And while it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the lure of this screen-based entertainment is the main reason why children rarely go outdoors, it may be a symptom of what Richard Louv refers to as ‘well-meaning, protective house arrest’. 
In a single generation since the 1970s, children’s ‘radius of activity’ – the area around their home where they are allowed to roam unsupervised – has declined by almost 90%. The forces behind this are:
  • traffic: Car use is at historical high levels. The number of children killed on our roads has fallen dramatically, from almost 700 deaths in 1976 to just 81 in 2009. But these raw figures conceal the true reason behind the drop in deaths: that nowadays children are rarely allowed to venture outdoors: in 1971, 80% of seven- and eight-year-old children went to school on their own; by 1990 only 9% were making the journey unaccompanied
  • risk: Giving children the freedom to explore natural environments inevitably incurs an element of danger. Still 
    • life is full of risk, so the best way to prepare children for life is to ensure they know how to judge risk for themselves
    • statistics show that most accidents happen at home
  • Fear of strangers: This is not always justified:
    • As a result of news coverage of attacks on children, it is easy for people to recall horrendous, tragic examples. 
    • Most sexual molestation occurs in the home by people the children know, for example, not in parks
  • Authority (teachers, police...): half of all children have been stopped from climbing trees, one in five banned from playing outdoor games.

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