Raising children is a rewarding yet challenging experience, and one of the key challenges these days is getting kids away from the screens. Centennial Parklands can help!

Kids spending time outdoors is good for their health and wellbeing – we know that. But what is the actual impact of too much ‘screen time’ on kids?

The article below talks about this challenge, and proposes a few simple but effective answers to the challenge of balancing screen and outdoor time.



Too much screen time and too little outside play is holding back kids

By Rachael Sharman, University of the Sunshine Coast

Parents are often told they need to get their kids outside to play to combat childhood obesity – which is more widespread than ever. But outside play isn’t only important in combating childhood obesity. And too much “screen time” does more than just make our kids fat.


Too much screen time

Kids are spending more and more time looking at screens. Flickr/Honza Soukup, CC BY

Kids are spending more and more time looking at screens. Flickr/Honza Soukup, CC BY

Spending prolonged periods in front of screens isn’t only bad for weight management in kids, it has also been shown to be detrimental to cognitive development, psychological health and sleep.

A smorgasbord of studies points to more than two hours of screen time per day as the perfect recipe for a fat and unhappy child (see here, here and here).


More play time has benefits beyond the waistline

What is less well known is the cognitive and psychological benefits of physically active play.

From a psychological perspective, children get a kick out of feeling effective and in control of themselves in their surroundings. (Remember the look of glee on your child’s face when they took their first steps, mastered a puzzle, first kicked a footy?) Most also prefer to exercise free will in choosing activities that appeal to them.

These two crucial factors in building psychological well-being are referred to by psychologists as “competence” and “autonomy”.

The playground holds critical life lessons. Flickr/cryptic_star, CC BY

The playground holds critical life lessons. Flickr/cryptic_star, CC BY

Providing play opportunities that increase physical activity, alongside promoting both competence and autonomy, will result in genuine skill development, as well as creating an enhanced sense of self-efficacy and psychological well-being.

Sounds so simple! Enter the barrier to providing said play opportunities: the fearful and risk-averse parent, strongly backed by Australia’s litigious compensation schemes.

But are parental fears of harm and injury justified? The notoriously reckless researcher Professor Paul Tranter introduced children to a “playground” filled with ropes, 44-gallon drums, milk crates and all manner of certain death traps. The result? A reduction in fighting and bullying and, interestingly, an increase in the social status of the creative kids.

Not to be outdone, our Kiwi cousins banned playground “rules” in several primary schools. Kids were allowed to climb trees, negotiate play and choose their own adventure. Their results? A similar reduction in bullying, as well as a drop in vandalism and serious injuries. I repeat, a drop in serious injuries.

Why? Because the kids are learning self-discipline and self-control, taking personal responsibility for their own risk and ability evaluation, thereby increasing autonomy and competence.

In stark comparison, what are we doing in Australia? Imposing increasingly absurd safety “interventions” like banning kids from doing cartwheels, which drives down both autonomy and competence in one fell swoop.

At a seminar of landscape architects I recently attended, we had the obligatory presentation from the fun police, trawling through the meticulous safety standards for playgrounds in Australia. He noted a key difference between Australia and New Zealand is litigation (or lack thereof) in response to playground/sporting injury (long story short, NZ residents are covered by an insurance scheme that doesn’t rely on lawsuits).

You can’t sue a tree if you fall off and break your arm. Flickr/Mike Prince, CC BY

You can’t sue a tree if you fall off and break your arm. Flickr/Mike Prince, CC BY

He quipped that it was no wonder the All Blacks are such an unbeatable rugby team: “If you can survive a New Zealand playground, you can go onto achieve anything.”

He doesn’t know how right he is.

The architects were particularly interested in the benefits of nature play. Why? Because, as yet, you can’t sue a tree.

Therefore nature remains the last bastion of genuine challenge; where children can test their effectiveness (competence) in a real rather than a sanitised, hyper-protected and restricted play environment.

If we withhold from our children the ability to take risks, evaluate consequences, innovate and solve problems in the face of challenge or failure, how on earth can we expect them to develop into effective, successful adults?

We should realise the damage we are doing to our kids by stifling and sanitising every possible play experience, as well as the legal processes we have in place to support this.

If not for me, if not for your child, at least for the future of Australian rugby!

The Conversation

Rachael Sharman does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Wild Play Garden - Centennial Park


Similar Articles

  • Dane Holt Centennial Park Share the Park cycling
    Local father encourages safe cycling in Centennial Park

    Most Sydneysiders have fond memories of weekends spent in Centennial Park and many of them still visit this space today to relax, stay active or be entertained. The Park is one of the most diverse public parklands in Australia and our newest safety campaign, Share the Park, reminds us that we all play a role to […]

  • Last minute Christmas gift guide for nature lovers

    Need help buying for someone who already has everything? Or how about the person who likes local, unique and sustainable gifts? Try wrapping up one of Centennial Parklands’ gifts that will definitely resonate with the nature lovers in your life.     #1 Gift a new outdoor experience Park Rides around the dedicated horse track in Centennial […]

  • Honey
    10 things you can do with honey this winter!

    You might be surprised to learn that the Parklands has its own honey made by bees who live on site! Each batch is raw, unheated and uniquely flavoured by the various native and exotic flowers across Centennial Parklands. As we welcome the cool change of season, there’s no better time to try a little of the sweet local nectar! Chech […]

  • Bird watchers
    124 reasons to volunteer at the Parklands

    Volunteers are the lifeblood of Centennial Parklands. Every year, hundreds of volunteers work more than 10,000 hours across 24 programs at the Parklands, and without them our wonderful green space simply wouldn’t be the same! This week is National Volunteer Week (8 – 14 May 2017) and we are celebrating all of our great volunteer contributions with a close look […]