As technology advances, and the world has more conveniences, people are becoming less active. We have all the entertainment of the world at a computer, TV, or mobile device to keep us from needing to seek out things. People can play games at home, and if you want more than just you playing online lets you keep being still. This has extended to our children. Just as we no longer have to be as active, our children are slowing down and doing less as well. Older generations were more active, and often went outside to play. Now the norm is staying indoors with video games. Regardless of if you blame the conveniences, entertainment, or any other concerns, kids are losing out on a bevy of health benefits from the simple act of playing. Physical, social, and mental development all improve from regular outdoor play.
The first and most obvious method of improvement is the body. Staying indoors to watch TV or playing video games usually has a person sitting still. Some argument can be made for hand-eye coordination, but muscle building? Even motion-controllers don’t give a good workout unless you are specifically trying for it. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that between 1980 and 2010 childhood obesity doubled.
To counter this, kids can be sent outside to walk, run, jump, climb, swim, dance, and many more forms of play that are exercise. Getting a body moving can help with flexibility, agility, and strength. Giving children a chance to look beyond a few feet to a screen can also improve long-distance vision. Every part of a child can benefit from getting out and moving from the cardiovascular system, to the muscles in both tone and mass, and even the immune system. Exposing a person to germs helps to give the immune system practice fighting off infections. Other physical benefits include the various healthy aspects of sunlight. Simple vitamin D is essential, and the sun bathes the world in it every day.
For many people, including children, everyday life is filled with stress. For kids, the constant pressure of school and the obligations of family and home can become difficult. Often adults don’t consider just what a kid has to deal with anymore, creating the classic disconnect between generations. The truth is that they have their fair share of things to worry about. Just as adults want to do something to de-stress and leave the house for a bit, kids can do well with their own versions. Going outside and playing in a more physical way can promote health and lower stress levels. Some are able to go out on nature walks or spend time in a rural area which can also provide a calming effect. Lower anxiety and stress can improve performance when they need it, giving a release from the rigors of life. Perhaps they do not have as much on their plate as an adult- but they are also kids.
Physical activity offers a chance to do something else for a while and change their mental focus. Without the constant entertainment of a screen, it also teaches patience and lengthens attention spans. Learning to wait and appreciate stimuli over time can be a great boon. Additionally, unstructured outdoor play requires kids to play on their own. This fosters creativity, learning, and problem solving skills. Making their own games, or joining into the games of others requires them to learn quickly and adapt- highly useful skills for any person to have.
Despite the internet and social media, humans in general are social creatures. Digital substitutes are not totally able to replace the simple act of learning how to talk with one another. For kids, going outside allows them to interact with peers and learn how to understand one another. Reading emotions, understanding the meaning behind phrases and actions, simple practice on interacting with other human beings can be immensely helpful and gratifying. These interactions help to develop executive functions, allowing kids to become better problem solvers, and learning to solve issues practically.
As with any skill, social abilities grow with practice, making them better able to handle social situations and emotional issues. Children are no different from adults in that regard. The practice of social and emotional control is best done when in a social setting. This teaches appropriate responses, the ability to empathize and understand others, and the emotional intelligence needed to recognize their own feelings and how to handle them appropriately. Learning how to interact with others creates social orders as well, reinforced by kids learning who they trust, who they dislike, and creating groups of friends. It allows them to help with a form of identity reinforcement, choosing their social circle and deciding what that means to them.