When many of us were kids, playtime involved riding bikes, running around playing tag, and yes, enjoying the equipment at our local playgrounds. For most kids today, playtime involves sitting in front of a glowing screen, sometimes for hours at a time. Most parents would agree that spending time with technology not the best option for their kids, but research shows that it could actually be making them sick.
The good news is that there’s a solution to all these tech-related health hazards: more time playing outdoors at the local playground!
Computer Vision Syndrome
The American Optometric Association has identified Computer Vision Syndrome, or digital eye strain, as a group of eye-related problems resulting from prolonged use of computers, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones. Symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. Some pediatric eye doctors have seen a connection between heavy use of electronic devices and the risk for early myopia in kids.
Why playgrounds make a difference: While interacting with computers, tablets, and other electronic devices forces children to focus on objects close to their faces, playground play allows them broaden their fields of vision and focus on objects at all distances (near, mid-range, and far).
Because video games and other forms of electronic entertainment involve sitting for long periods, too much screen time can put kids at risk for juvenile obesity. Kids are also more likely to indulge in high-calorie, high-fat snacks while they’re distracted by what’s happening on the screen.
Why playgrounds make a difference: Running around at the local playground offers calorie-burning cardiovascular benefits, while activities like climbing, crawling, and swinging work muscles in different areas of the body. And while kids are busy being active, they’re less likely to reach for sugary or high-fat snacks.
In 2010, Dr. Larry Rosen of California State University led a study involving 1,000 parents of children ages 4–18 to explore a connection between media consumption and ill-being (which he defined as “psychological problems, behavioral problems, attention difficulties, and physical symptomology”). “What we found was astounding,” Dr. Rosen reports. “For all ages, even after controlling for all possible alternative explanations, total media usage predicted all forms of ill-being.”
Why playgrounds make a difference: Many studies show that time spent outdoors, especially in greener environments, can improve mood, promote creativity, and reduce the risk of depression in both kids and adults. Physical activity has shown to have many of the same effects, making our playgrounds doubly important for kids’ psychological and emotional well being.
While some may question the need for playgrounds in today’s high-tech world, they offer the families in your community a fun, active, healthy break from glowing screens (and the health hazards they pose). By encouraging more family time at your playground, you’re helping parents raise happier, healthier kids while building the bonds that make every community stronger. And that’s one healthy combination!