It’s no surprise, perhaps, that kids are becoming less active once their school years begin. But it is a surprise that in the Oreo creme filling years of life — the sweet years when they could be hopping on their bikes, playing impromptu games after school, or at least walking some places as they gain the confidence and stamina to roam — they are getting more sedentary and old-person-ish instead.
This new study from Britain shows that from age 6 to age 11 kids lost a couple minutes of movement per year, culminating in the loss of a little over an hour of activity a week.
Is that so much? Maybe not. But as sedentary time rose, so did obesity. And, as we have heard, anxiety and depression are trending up among young people, too.
The lure of screens may be partly to blame, of course, along with homework, as well as the idea that structured activities are a must — often requiring a car ride to get there. And worries about crime and traffic certainly play a role in the loss of childhood independence and mobility. To see just how much our notions of what kids can handle has changed, the article “How Children Lost the Right to Roam in Four Generations,” continues to be a touchstone. It shows how far am 88-year-old great-grandfather, 63-year-old grandfather, 36-year-old mom and 8-year-old in the same family were all allowed to roam at about age eight. Great-grandpa walked six miles to go fishing, make forts, explore the woods. Grandpa walked a mile and also played in the woods. Mom played in the park with friends and rode her bike to the local pool.
Her 8-year-old son is only allowed to walk to the end of the block.
It is hard to buck an entire society changing the parameters — perimeters — of childhood. But data on the loss of movement and the increase in childhood problems could cause parents, schools and health professionals to rethink the wisdom of more sitting, less running and roaming.
If your kids are out and about these days, please tell us how you have made this happen. What factors make it easier for parents to send their kids out to walk and play and roam? Any advice or observations are important as we widen our kids’ lives. – L.S.