The media is often blamed for making our kids lazy and fat. Despite the proliferation of media in our homes the accusation is misplaced.
It is true that in one generation the allure of the screen has grown phenomenally. The humble five free-to-air TV channels you might have grown up with has been surpassed with countless viewing options, not to mentions the DVDs and games available on screens large and small. And all this before fluid internet television becomes a norm as it invariably will before long, with virtually infinite options.
There are certainly many attractive options to engage and enthral kids. But you can’t blame them for that. Ask any kid whether they’d rather stay indoors or go outside and by-and-large they will choose the latter. It’s just that they are no longer allowed to. “It’s really unfair,” one 11 year old said to me “you want to go outside and ride your bikes with your friends but you’re not allowed to.”
You also can’t blame parents who are reacting to fear. Allowing your kids outside unsupervised is perceived as tantamount to neglect today.
This phenomenon is a relatively new one. Not even a generation ago it was common for kids to roam the neighbourhood or kick the ball around the park with their friends. There was adventure to be had and they were encouraged to go exploring.
A generation ago we also moved less often and therefore invested more in knowing our neighbours and creating a sense of community in our streets. We felt more secure. Today most people speak of neighbours they are friendly enough to greet, but few have relationships with them strong enough to assume they will look out for their kids.
Our fear of crime is the culprit here. The assumption is that society is unsafe and that kids need vigilant protection from child abductors. The irony, of course, is that there is no more danger today for kids then in the past. Violent crime levels have remained largely unchanged over the decades.
It is the proliferation of reporting of crime and the alarmist tones with which these are delivered that has caused panic.
Being stuck indoors kids will naturally gravitate to activities that stretch their imagination and bring the outdoors into the home. And the media does this well.
There is no sign this will change in the near future. Even in regional areas, once renowned for the sense of security and neighbourliness, there is growing fear and less freedom for kids.
This predicament we find ourselves is certainly not a good reflection of our society, nor is it healthy. The statistics for child obesity in Australia are staggering. Their ability to be active only within a supervised environment means they do less.
Perhaps it is time for supervised parks, ovals and outdoor recreation areas in each neighbourhood. Fenced and watched over, where parents can drop off their kids for a safe play.