Adventurous Play Boosts Childrens Mental Health, Lowers Anxiety And Depression: Study

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Adventurous Play Boosts Children's Mental Health, Lowers Anxiety And Depression: Study

The study, published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development, comes when today’s children have fewer opportunities for adventurous play out of sight of adults, like climbing trees, jumping from high surfaces, riding bikes or playing somewhere where they are out of sight.

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Children who spend more time in adventurous play involving an element of risk have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and were happier during the first COVID-19 lockdown, a new study has found.

According to researchers, the effect was more pronounced among kids from lower-income families.

A study led by the University of Exeter asked parents how often their kids engaged in "thrilling and exciting" play, where they might experience some fear and uncertainty.

Published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development, the study comes at a time when today's children have fewer opportunities for adventurous play out of sight of adults, like climbing trees, jumping from high surfaces, riding bikes or playing somewhere where they are out of sight.

The study set out to test theories that adventurous play offers learning opportunities that help build resilience in children and protect mental health.

Researchers surveyed two samples of parents of children aged five to 11 – 427 parents in Northern Ireland and a nationally representative group of 1,919 parents in England, Wales and Scotland – and asked them about their child's play, their mental health before the pandemic and their mood during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Adventurous Kids Have Fewer Internalising Problems

They found that kids who spent more time playing adventurously outside had fewer "internalising problems", characterised as anxiety and depression, and were also more positive during the first lockdown, The Guardian reported.

The effects were relatively small but consistent after factoring in a range of demographic variables, including a child's sex and age and parents' employment status and mental health. The larger sample also found the association was stronger for children from lower-income families than their peers from wealthier backgrounds.

As a result, the study's authors call planning authorities to ensure that every child, especially disadvantaged families who cannot pay for additional, organised adventure experiences, has free access to a safe space for adventurous outdoor play close to their home.

Less Opportunity For Adventurous Play

The study, Child's Play: Examining the Association Between Time Spent Playing and Child Mental Health, comes at a time when child psychologists are worried that children have less opportunity for adventurous play out of sight of adults, that COVID has limited play, and playgrounds have become more sanitised because of fears of litigation.

Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter and study's lead author said, "We're more concerned than ever about children's mental health, and our findings highlight that we might be able to help protect children's mental health by ensuring they have plentiful opportunities for adventurous play."

"This is positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available to everyone, and doesn't require special skills. We now urgently need to invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks, and adventure playgrounds from supporting our children's mental health," Dodd added.

In July, one of Europe's biggest indoor children's play centres is to open in Wetherby, Yorkshire, promising children a new and challenging experience. The £3.5m Playhive at Stockeld Park features a series of themed and interconnected adventure zones in a doughnut-shaped building with a 10-metre (33ft) tower at its centre.

Its creator, Peter Grant, said: "We didn't want the usual soft play scene, but one that truly inspires imaginations. The idea is children of all ages can do most of it, but some of it is more challenging for older children."

Belinda Kirk, an explorer, mother and author of the Adventure Revolution: the life-changing power of choosing challenge, welcomed the University of Exeter findings on the adventurous play.

"There is this incredibly normal instinct to want to protect your children, which I have in bountiful amounts. But we live in a world that is so obsessed with physical safety that we've forgotten to balance it with mental health. We've prioritised physical safety or mental health over mental health, so we're not letting kids fall and learn to pick themselves up again, therefore building up coping mechanisms and resilience."

Previous research found that primary-age children are not allowed to play outside on their own until they are two years older than their parents' generation. While their parents were allowed to play outside unsupervised by the age of nine on average, children currently are 11 by the time they reach the same milestone.

Sharing some free family adventures, Kirk says:

  • Go for a walk in the dark. Take a torch to make it more fun. Doing it at night makes it all the more exciting, because even environments you know, like a footpath near your house, feel different. It smells different, the wildlife's different, it's a proper adventure.
  • Go for a night cycle.
  • Explore woods alone or with a friend.
  • Camp out overnight. Sleeping out under the stars is hugely exciting, even just in your back garden.
  • Go swimming or paddling in a river or lake.
  • Go geocaching. It's a treasure hunt.
  • Climb a mountain or a local hill. Summiting your first mountain is a beautiful thing to do.
  • Try out new skills on a skateboard, roller skate or bike.
  • Create an obstacle course inside or outside.
  • Do a source-to-sea river walk.

Also Read: Bengaluru Creates Highest Number Of Jobs In 2021-22, Overtakes Delhi And Mumbai: Study

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Writer : Tashafi Nazir
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