Shrinking our children’s world

Kids at play statue - Arthur ChapmanWould we welcome a world of the future in which people tended to be risk-averse, uncomfortable with natural environments and favoured digital competency over physical capability?

The change would be dramatic. The divergence from previous generations spanning millennia would be remarkably transformative and life would not be as we have largely known it.

Given the problems wracking the globe today, many might well say: bring it on! A cursory glance at any day’s major news stories suggests that life is desperate, if not hell, for a large swag of our world’s population even for many of the rest it’s hardly a bed of roses.

But if we were thrust into an insular, cossetted, and sterile environment in which experience derived largely from electronic means and focussed on sensory rather than tactile engagement would we think we were better off?

The majority answer is likely No. Which should prompt serious consideration of our societal retreat from letting kids play as they have done for centuries: largely unsupervised, primarily in natural environments and frequently exposed to risk.

Sadly, concerns about safety are prompting parents to increasingly shelter their offspring from situations that have long been regarded as positively formative and an integral element of developing the necessary physical and mental skills for maturity, socialisation and leadership capability.

A longitudinal study of Australian children finds that anxious parents are being, perhaps, over-protective. They are sheltering their youngsters indoors rather than letting them loose in the garden, encouraging play with digital companions rather than ‘the kids next door’, minimising their physical activities and fostering fear of the unknown.

Regrettably the divide between haves and have-nots is being further entrenched as parents from lower socio-economic circumstances are those most likely to be over-protective. The divide is being exacerbated along metropolitan and rural lines, too.

Medical specialists suggest the trend will result in children who have a greater tendency to be overweight, lack independence and whose psychological wellbeing is less robust.

It would be foolish to propose that we expose our children to risk unnecessarily or to physical harm in unsafe environments. But the issue warrants serious consideration in all families. The future as we know it – or tend to imagine it – is at stake. As with most things, moderation is usually the best option.