Kevan Christie: It's time to let our children learn to play on their own

The Scottish Government has predictably taken flak over the announcement that most primary pupils are not getting enough daily exercise.

At least playing Space Invaders involved a bit of effort, writes Kevan Christie - kids had to stand up.
At least playing Space Invaders involved a bit of effort, writes Kevan Christie - kids had to stand up.

However, on this occasion I feel that everyone has to take responsibility and simply throwing money at this problem might help a bit but won’t solve the issue. How much money do you need to run in a park?

The Growing Up In Scotland survey found just 11 per cent of children aged ten and 11 were taking part in one hour of “moderate to vigorous physical activity” (MVPA) every day.

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It found that boys were significantly more active than girls, with those in deprived homes tending to do more than their wealthier peers, but this was not deemed statistically significant.

Both sexes were said to be sedentary for more than seven hours a day, with the boys averaging 78 minutes exercise per day over a week and the girls active for 68 minutes.

We all know about the nation’s problems with obesity in both children and adults – so I won’t dwell on that subject. One thing I have noticed in all of this though, is how much of an event children’s activities have now become.

No-one seems to play football in the street or in the parks, there are hardly any youngsters on the golf courses, and parents are everywhere – recording each activity then posting it on social media.

In this climate the kids don’t stand a chance. The simplest of things, like feeding the ducks, becomes a virtue signalling event for mum and/or dad to show the world how much they care about enhancing the creativity of their “little miracles”.

Every budding footballer now needs coached as dad vicariously lives his dreams through an 11-year-old whose keepie-uppie record is a paltry six. There are karate drop-off centres where parents can dispatch budding ninjas after paying a fortune for a white suit and various coloured belts – another “event”. Trust me, they won’t be doing karate in their teens. There are activities that cost nothing.

Of course, the advent of smartphones, iPads and computer games plays a huge part in the zombification of our children. If your parents are your role models and you see them spending huge amounts of time on these things, then it’s going to have a knock-on effect. I had a six-year-old visitor to my house ask me “what’s the WiFi password?” the other day.

When I were a lad, we played computer games, but we played them standing up in amusement arcades. Space Invaders and Galaxian actually required a bit of physical effort, not much, but more than today.

We also spent hours playing football in the street, whole days at the swimming pool and rang people’s doorbells then sprinted away. I take on board the fact there are more cars nowadays and things are being done to have vehicle-free zones, open up school playgrounds in the summer and generally look at innovative new ways to create space for kids to play. This is to be welcomed.

I’ve also noticed how some big cities are great at creating space – urban areas in the US have basketball courts and in parts of Europe there are football pitches everywhere you look. This doesn’t happen much in Scotland.

So, rather than batter the Scottish Government on this one - and they could spend a bit more – I think we should acknowledge that more encouragement and less intrusion is needed at home. Let children play – and don’t get involved in their every waking moment.