You frequently hear people talking about how children of today don't play outside enough. Older generations often use the "in my day" phrases when telling of children only bothering to come home when they knew a meal would be on the table and then spending the rest of their time climbing trees and exploring for miles around where they lived.
The reality is that a lot has changed since "those days". Neary every home now has a TV set and many childrens have one in the bedroom too. There are also games consoles and handheld games which children like to spend time on too. More mothers now work whereas in previously the mother would often have a stay at home role which involved cooking nutritious homecooked meals too. The issue of "stranger danger" also didn't seem to exist in quite the same way as it does today. The press have spoken about how technology and junk food have led us to have more obese children than ever before, a couch-potato generation, yet I've not really seen many proper studies on how life is different for today's children compared to those of their grandparents' generation. That is until now.
In conjunction with the National Trust, naturalist, author and TV producer Stephen Moss has produced a report entitled Natural Childhood in which he looks at the changing relationship between children and the natural world around them. As many would expect, children are sadly spending less and less time outdoors. Some of the statistics are surprising. Three times as many children are taken to hospital each year from falling ot of bed than falling out of trees! Children in Britain also watch 17 hours of television a week – that's a staggering 2.5 hours a day and is up from 2007, despite the increase in internet usage since then. 11-15 years olds spend about half their waking lives in front of a screen – 7.5 hours a day.
That last figure in particular staggers me. That's the same as spending a typical working day infront of a computer. But these are children. Shouldn't they be running around, playing games, playing with toys, reading books, crafting, listening to music, or even just sitting and talking to other people for some of that time? I couldn't find a statistic for the average number of hours that a child spends outside in the fresh air, but I'm sadly guessing it may be very low.
Surely children need to understand and appreciate the natural world around them so that they can play their part in protecting it for future generations. If these children grow up having never seen flowers in the wild, having not spotted wild animals and birds in their natural habitats or having not apprecaited the vast array of plants and trees that we have here in the UK would they care about protecting them? Or would they instead be happy for green zones to be abolished and things to be allowed to become extinct?
The National Trust is running a two month long inquiry to look at how we can reconnect today's children, and future generations, with the natural world. Parents, teachers and healthcare professionals all say that it should be done, but yet initiatives that are set up to do so have as yet been unsuccessful. I'm fascinated to hear their findings and to see if there is a way to turn things around. I sincerely hope so.
So, do you take your children out to play outdoors? Do you encourage them to build dens and climb trees? And if not, why not? What do you think should be done to help their generation to reconnect with the nature that is all around them? Is the modern day lure of technology too much or do we need to fight back as part of the current aim that many people have of simplifying their lives? I would love to hear your views.