Only one in every eight children in India’s metros likes to spend time in a park, while others prefer malls, gaming parlours, movie halls and coffee shops.
A study of 690 children in the 8 to 16 age group, conducted across five metros, including Mumbai and Delhi, by Edumedia, an education research group, has found that 12% voted for parks, while 20% picked shopping malls as their favourite go-to destination.
The findings revealed that 31% teenagers (15-17 years) like to spend their leisure hours in covered outdoor spaces, while 28% spend time indoors at home. When at home, they either watch television or play video games.
Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist who specialises in children’s behaviour, said the present generation of children are sub-consciously seeking spaces that have ‘brand values’ attached to them. “In their minds, brands have become associated with quality and comfort. The mushrooming of branded cafés has a hold on them as they promise privacy and a hip ambience,” said Shetty. “Since malls offer these brands under one roof, children are constantly turning to them.”
Seema Hingorrany, a Mumbai-based psychologist, said children’s definition of ‘hanging out’ has changed due to the mall-culture. “Hanging out has become synonymous with shopping and eating. It no longer means only catching up with friends. There is a constant need to either eat or look at something,” said Hingorrany.
Several previous studies have indicated that children stay indoors and hence are active for just 17 minutes in a day. Ideally, experts said, children must spend at least an hour on outdoor physical activities every day.
But finding open spaces in metros is difficult. “Very few child-friendly open spaces are left in metros. Most open spaces are unkempt and unconducive to children, so even parents do not like sending children there,” Nayana Kathpalia, trustee, Oval Trust. “It’s not difficult to maintain open spaces. All we need is simple play equipment for toddlers and a plain ground for children to play.”
Lack of physical activity can be detrimental to children’s growth. Dr Samir Dalwai, developmental paediatrician, said, “It can lead to obesity among children above five years of age and also stymie their psychological development due to lack of interaction with other children. In children below five years, it also results in hyperactivity as their physical energy is not used up.”
Along with non-availability of proper open spaces, experts feel disinterested and paranoid parents are also one of the reasons children pick malls and cafés over parks. Parents taking initiative and making their children aware about the drawbacks of staying indoor is also crucial.
“Parents need to encourage their children to go to parks. We need to develop that interest among children by taking them on trips to farms and beaches,” said Biju Augustine, an environmentalist and father to an 11-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy. “I have started taking my children to weekend trips to my farm house. They help me plant vegetables and manage the cattle.”
Elsie Gabriel, founder of Young Environmentalists Programme Trust, who has been working in outdoor education for the last 15 years, said every parent can do this in their own way. “You do not need to have a big farm house, just take them to the garden in the building and show them snails and flowering trees,” said Gabriel, adding that in several cases, concerns of safety and hygiene stop parents from sending children out. “On February 2, we had organised a flamingo watch for children at Sewri and many parents did not want to send their children as they feared their feet getting dirty,” she said. “Unless parents’ attitude changes, children will continue to be mall rats.”