A survey of more than 12,000 parents of children aged five to 12 from 10 countries revealed that children spend less time outdoors than the average prison inmate, according to Activist Post. British laundry company Persil commissioned the survey via an independent market research firm. The research revealed that a third of British children spend thirty minutes or less outdoors each day, and one in five does not play outdoors at all on an average day. The survey was conducted in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.
Dirt is Good is an ongoing campaign that was birthed out of the findings of the survey. The organization produced a short film of the same name. The film points out that on average, inmates are allotted two hours outdoors each day, however most children only spend an hour or less. According to the United Nations, prison inmates are granted a minimum of one hour daily to spend outdoors.
As a result of this culture shift, children’s mental health is suffering. Peter Gray notes in The Play Deficit on Aoen that there is a direct correlation with the decline in children’s play and an increase in mental disorders. Moreover, it’s not just disorders that were overlooked in the past. In fact, research results “reveal a continuous, essentially linear, increase in anxiety and depression in young people over the decades, such that the rates of what today would be diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder and major depression are five to eight times what they were in the 1950’s.” He goes on to say, “Over the same period, the suicide rate for young people aged 15-24 has more than doubled, and that for children under 15 has quadrupled.”
Gray points out that the decline in opportunity to play correlates with a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism. He says that children cannot learn social skills and values in school because “school is an authoritarian, not a democratic setting.” As a result, school encourages competition rather than cooperation. Therefore, “children there are not free to quit when others fail to respect their needs and wishes.”
In his book, Free to Learn, Gray documents these this phenomena and says that the rise in mental disorders in children is “largely the result of the decline in children’s freedom.” He says that for children to thrive, they must be allowed more time and opportunity to play. The author contends that play is learning, and at play is where children learn the most important of life’s lessons—the ones that can’t be taught in schools. He says, “To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play—lots and lots of it, without inference from adults.”
Image via Education to Save the World