Last week on 3AW, an interview with Professor Damian Farrow revealed what we have all been suspecting: that motor skills of school-aged children, both fine and gross, are “alarmingly low”, and increased screen time may be the main contributor to this decline.
Professor Damian Farrow, from the Australian Institute of Sport, and his research team tested children’s running skills, ball throwing and catching abilities. Their research indicated that a staggering 7 in 10 primary school children showed below average sporting abilities. “They can’t catch or throw a ball”, Professor Farrow said.
“It’s that lack of activity, being replaced by ‘screen time’ that is one of the main drivers for the decline that we’re seeing.”
He said this type of testing has been done for years at primary schools, and children’s motor skills were at “alarmingly low levels compared to what they were”. Although it has not yet been established as the direct cause, it is hypothesised that one of the major contributor to this decline is screen time.
Back in the day, children would spend lots of time outside, climbing trees, running, riding their bikes; but not so much anymore. Twenty-first century children are wired from a very young age. Their exposure to mobile phones, tablets and laptops has become commonplace – they are very tech-savvy, but at a costly price.
We asked our Chief Poobah Deb Latouf, who has a PhD in Motor Development, to share her opinion regarding this matter that affects many children and their parents. Deb said there is genuine cause for concern, especially with the participation of the ‘average’ child in physical activity and the lack of development of their skills. She says it’s important to clarify that, although the study has hypothesised screen time as causal, the link between the amount of screen based activity and the decline in fundamental movement skills has not been established.
“It is reasonable to assume that there is some relationship between the two. But there is also a relationship with the quality of the PE programs children are being offered in school; so the nature of the relationship is not as simple as some would make out,” she added.
Deb believes parents have a huge responsibility when it comes to addressing the problem, “For too long we have blamed the lack of quality PE teachers and the squeeze on the curriculum for the problem. These are valid points, but we must also consider that there is a political agenda behind this lobbying. At the end of the day, parents are the ones that provide the opportunities for after school and club involvement in physical activity,” she said. Deb stressed that most primary-school aged children get the majority of their physical activity while at school – walking between classes, participating in playground activities and PE; but once at home and on the weekends, it’s up to the parents to ensure their children are keeping active.
“Behavioural change at the family level remains our greatest ongoing challenge in this regard.”
The Elves think there is no better way of motivating your little one to come out from behind the screen than by encouraging activity through play. Whether you invite them for some good old fashioned throw and catch in the back yard, take them for a micro scooter ride, or play balancing games on the Teeter Popper indoors, getting them moving is key.
Deb’s top 5 tips for parents to get children moving
1. Limit the amount of screen based activity they do. Use access to the screens in measured doses. For example, some parents will not allow it at all during the school week, or perhaps for one hour. If they have access to screen based activities, ensure this does not happen in their bedroom where it is difficult to monitor.
2. Restrict the use of portable devices at restaurants, etc. There is clear evidence of delays in children’s speech associated with over-use of mobile devices. It is hypothesised that this is because of parents engaging in less conversation with their children at family outings, as the children play on these devices.
3. Do things as a family and involve everyone – walk the dog, ride scooters, ride a bike; The simple things provide great value for money. Parents are the greatest influence on their children; and children will model their parent’s behavior. If your ‘normal’ as a parent is to not be active, then this will become your children’s ‘normal’.
4. Eat your evening meal as a family, away from the television. Talk about what you did that day; and what you are going to do tomorrow.
5. Support your children’s involvement in club based sport. If they show an interest in an activity then facilitate their involvement in this. It is not enough to assume that physical activity is the responsibility of the teacher and school.
What do you think? Is this research surprising? Tell us what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.
You can listen to the 3AW interview here.