Children need to be persuaded to play ‘The Great Outdoor’

Pulling the plug may be the way to get children outdoors and away from screens

How do you prise the controls from their sweaty little hands and get them outside? Photograph: Eric Luke

How do you prise the controls from their sweaty little hands and get them outside? Photograph: Eric Luke


So another study has proven what many parents already know. Children who spend a lot of time in front of television, video games and small screens are more likely to become overweight.

The latest report from the Growing Up in Ireland research shows that five-year-old children who spend three or more hours in front of a screen are considerably more likely to consume unhealthy foods more often and become obese.

And don’t reassure yourself that this fat will melt away when they turn into teenagers. According to Prof James Williams, principal investigator of the Growing Up in Ireland series, if a young child is manifesting these trends at an early age, he or she has a much higher probability of sustaining that into adulthood.

But this is the era of the Xbox, iPod, iPad, PSP, Wii U, DS and any other initials you care to add. We live in a time when a toddler is as likely to swipe your iPhone screen as open a book. Remember the days when the television was the sole battleground? Now there’s YouTube to police where an innocent search for a song can lead children down unsavoury avenues. And that’s before they look at the comments underneath the videos.

There are the endless requests for Grand Theft Auto and other over-18s games because apparently every other 12-year-old has them.

There’s the constant pinging from What’s App? as pre-teens “hi” and “lol” over and back to each other all evening.

Suddenly you find yourself longing for the innocent antics of Spongebob Squarepants.

So how do you prise the controls from their sweaty little hands and get them outside?

In the UK last month almost 400 organisations, from playgroups to the NHS, came together as the Project Wild Network to encourage families to reconnect with nature. They want children to take up activities like conkers and camping, and say an extra 30 minutes of wild time every day for under 12s would be the equivalent of just three months of their childhood spent outdoors.

Some parenting experts advise rationing screen consumption to a certain number of hours per week and say children should be encouraged to take responsibility for this rationing. But what if this doesn’t work? What if you’ve had your fill of the mooing cow on Minecraft? What if the constant whine of “it’s my go on the Xbox” gets too much?

Simply remove the fuse from the plug and blame a loose wire. Restore it after a few weeks, while warning that it could go again at any time.

Simples, as one pre-teen known to The Irish Times would say.

Food Month Whetting the appetite

Clodagh McKenna shared her secret kitchen tips, Patrick Freyne learned how to stop burning things, Catherine Cleary gave us a guide to reviewing restaurants and Ronan McGreevy angered the vegetarians of Ireland: all of this was part of The Irish Times Food Month, which ends today.

The initiative, a combination of daily news, features, social media campaigns, reader events, parties and a live radio broadcast in association with The Ian Dempsey Show on Today FM, is the first such project by The Irish Times.

There was focused coverage of food, agri-business, diet, food production, obesity and nutrition. A special food issue of Health&Family was published, along with food-related content from many of our columnists and in the areas of science, sport, the arts and education. On November 15th, a Winter Food & Drink Guide was launched.

On there was a dedicated Food Month microsite which gathered food and drink content, plus a daily article by a member of The Irish Times staff entitled We Love Food and a live weekly food forum Q&A. Reader events in November including a food quiz, food-themed movie night run by The Ticket and a Christmas entertaining night run by our food writer Eunice Power.