Active Kids Are Healthier Kids

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Today’s parents grew up before the arrival of the smart phone or tablet. As a result, those who stop to think about it struggle to figure out what’s right to do. Especially with very young children it’s phenomenally tempting to let the device take the place of a child minder. Small children, once they have such a device in their hands, prove to be remarkably speedy learners. They can find their way around, delete things, download apps and open what interests them most. And they become so terribly passive, ‘well-behaved’ and docile, giving parents no trouble or disturbance while they surf the latest riveting posts and make themselves ever more anxious that their dull, messy lives cannot match up to the amazing, beautiful lives of their dear friends on Insta and Facebook.

If you ask many whether what they’re doing is OK, they might show a momentary hesitation – but it’s all so tempting. Little Johnnie hasn’t given any trouble for the last hour. And the last time Mama tried to take the tablet away from him the screaming fit in the middle of the supermarket was just so embarrassing.  So, better to let him carry on. he must be OK.

But, there is a small nagging doubt in the back of Mama’s mind, ever since she read news stories about how high placed people in the Silicon Valley tech companies don’t allow their children to use mobile devices. They ought to know what’s for the best? But, little Johnnie’s so much better behaved like this, and Mama has a headache worrying about the fact that she seems to be the only one of her friends who hasn’t yet Konmari’d her home. She used to invite friends round for coffee, but now it would just be too humiliating.

Today, Mama’s really not sure she has any gratitude for the wise people at the World Health Organisation (WHO) who have carried out an extensive review of the scientific evidence to issue guidance which was published last week. Their recommendations address the appropriate amounts of sleep, exercise and screen time for babies and infants under 5. They had issued guidance for older age ranges earlier dealing particularly with physical activity (5 to 17, 18-64 and 65 and over).

World Health Organisation Guidelines – Diet and Physical Activity

Mama hasn’t forgotten the trouble that happened when it was discovered that her older son’s friend was feasting on copious amounts of screen time at her house, after his parents had specifically told her that they had made a rule to limit him to one hour per day. “Surely, that was cruelty to deny the child something he liked so much,” she rationalised. In her heart she knew her real reason was that she saw no way of introducing and maintaining such a rule for her own child, and she does like to be the popular Aunty! Such a minefield dealing with other kids’ parents!

These new WHO guidelines deal with needs for exercise, sleep and (passive) screen time for three age categories; under 1, one to two and three to four. Their focus regarding screen time seems to have been more on the physical effects of inactivity more than effect on eyes or mental and psychological impacts of excessive screen time. More screen time equals more sedentary time, means major contribution to growing levels of childhood obesity.

CNN – Health – Exercise, Sleep and Screen Time Recommendations For Under 5’s

The information contained here is vitally important for care givers as well as those in a position to educate and guide parents, especially professionals working in early years environments. However, it should also lead many in early years and playgroup situations to assess their own practices as well. It’s important to note the stress placed on free and active play as the primary route for learning for children in this age range. Educators who become hellbent on an academic head start for these children with weighty syllabus and limited play would do well to review the implications of these recommendations. If parents are a long way from the scenario in these guidelines, at least the educators shouldn’t be making things worse!

Finally, here’s an article from The Atlantic that acknowledges some of the challenges in moving towards these guidelines. If anything, this is an acknowledgement that in many environments, especially prosperous Western cities, the children are already a very long way away from what’s being recommended. There’s a long road ahead and time will show the full implications for children growing up with shortages of quality sleep, active physical play and an excess of passive screen time.

The Atlantic – How Should Parents Interpret Screen-Time Recommendations?

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