After reading Dr. Dean’s article, “The True North Strong and Free”, I am compelled to write in support of not just his insights, but the actions he says are required of us all.
There’s another issue we need to think about, to worry about, to act on immediately!
We’re all familiar with the alarming statistics about the growing number of overweight and obese children and the poor level of physical activity in children. Canadian children are heavier, taller, fatter, rounder, less flexible, and weaker than children were in 1981.
That’s why we can expect more chronic disease, increased health care costs, and declining productivity in Canadian society.
It’s a dark future, yet we fail to act. We fail to make a difference for our children.
Inactivity is worse than obesity
The obesity problem has become so “large” that we are unable to see what could be more damaging to our sedentary children.
We have become distracted, if not blinded, by the “obese child”. What could possibly be worse?
Inactivity. For an inactive life leads to other outcomes:
- Children who don’t know how to fail
- Children who can’t stick with a difficult task
- Children who lack imagination
- Children who aren’t resilient
- Children who have an inflated sense of self-worth
- Children who are afraid to take risks
Why risk-taking matters
Children who have grown up in a fishbowl or cushioned in bubble-wrap end up terrified of failure while expecting everything to be delivered on a silver platter. They lack grit.
This is the modern child.
In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford University’s Carol Dweck writes that we have successfully engineered a child that is unable to take risks, lacks imagination, lacks resilience, and has an artificially inflated sense of self worth.
This does not bode well for the future health of Canadians.
We know parents mean well. They want the best for their children.
Parents want their kids to become artists or athletes, musicians or dancers or academics. All while avoiding pain and hardship.
The problem of the busy family
Family schedules are jam-packed with extracurricular activities for arts, culture, and even physical activity and sports programs. All over and above the day-to-day demands of going to school and keeping up with homework.
But busy schedules keep parents and children apart, and as a result parents don’t trust their children to handle risk. Parents make decisions based on fear. And research tells us that a parent’s worry for their child’s safety often translates into hovering (i.e., the “helicopter parent”).
This doesn’t help, it hurts. Hovering actually creates inactive children; kids who don’t have a natural sense of wonder and curiosity.
What unstructured play gives to kids
Free play has all but vanished from a child’s life. Few adults find any value in it. Think how often you see children playing in an unstructured environment free from adult supervision. Research has determined that simply letting children play outdoors increases the amount of time and intensity of their activity.
More than that, free play develops cognitive traits such as creativity, problem solving, focus, and self-discipline. Social benefits include cooperation and self-awareness while emotional benefits include reduced aggression and increased happiness.
The problem of an obese child pales in comparison to a child lacking in creativity, devoid of imagination, and unable to deal with new, novel and challenging situations.
More than dealing with the obesity epidemic, we need to renew the very essence of childhood: spontaneity. Children need the chance to learn through movement, through experimenting and exploring.
They are basic experiences that serve as the foundation for becoming independent adults.