Monthly Archives: August 2016

Outdoor play boosts brain and body

“Go and play outside!” was the catch-cry of mums across Australia in decades past, but as technology, hectic schedules and lack of outside space continue to impede on boys’ play time the constant call has become more of a passing comment.

Researchers and delegates from around the world have been in Perth this weekend to discuss the importance of nature play for children and the effects playing outdoors can have on a child’s physical and mental well-being now and into the future.

Keynote speaker at the Children and Nature conference and Canadian naturopath and health researcher Alan Logan said scientists were yet to pinpoint why children benefit from outdoor play but it could primarily lead to increased mood and realisation of physical activity.

“Children who have access to quality green space are more likely to be physically active and have social interactions,”Mr Logan said.

“Your connection to nature established early in life to your experiences can actually influence life wellbeing. And this is not just one or two studies, there have been several studies combined that have clearly shown this connection,” he said.

He said one of the key connections to nature in early life was how it related to empathy, building on a child’s ability to understand and take on another person’s perspective. He added that losing nature play and time outdoors risked the loss of experience and knowledge among children.

“The risk is extinction of experience, of forgetting what once was. That is really what it comes down to. As we lose that time outside, there will be other things that take its place; maybe it’s more screen time and indoor time.”

“We know what nature does — it induces awe and optimism and a sense of wonder.”

Fellow presenter UWA professor of paediatrics and Telethon KIDS Institute associate director of research Susan Prescott said a child’s relationships with nature influenced the biodiversity of their body.

Prof. Prescott said changes to external environments, including the amount of time spent outdoors has had ramifications on the gut health and wellbeing of children.

“Our relationship with nature influences the biodiversity of our bodies; the soil, the air we breathe. When children go outside, they are constantly coming into contact with friendly microbes we know are important for stimulating and developing the immune system, so reduced green space and reduced biodiversity contact may increase immune disease, particularly allergies,” she said.

She said a decline in outdoor time also had implications for a range of other diseases and highlighted how “things are interconnected in ways we hadn’t expected before.”

“It’s important we think about it, particularly for children because there is an early window of opportunity when they are first establishing the ecological system on their bodies.”







A boy’s life at 14

This is my life at the age of 14. I’m not a boy and I’m not a man. I’m somewhere in the middle. It’s a strange kind of limbo. Sometimes my thoughts are very childish. But, other times, my thoughts take me by surprise and I wonder, is this how a man thinks?

Being 14 means you’re half mature. You get the respect you need from older people, but you can still goof around and be a child. In some ways, it’s the best of both worlds.

You can annoy your teachers without getting in trouble because they still think you’re ‘just being kids’. One time, our whole class made an agreement not to answer any questions for the whole day. Our teacher went insane with frustration. When I’m older, I won’t be able to mess around like that. I will be expected to be mature at all times.

At 14, I have my whole life spread out before me. It’s a feeling of fright and excitement all at once. It’s a time of evolution: a transition from child to an adult. You’re trying to be the picture perfect teen with good grades, get your fastest time in the 200m (or whatever event or sport you’re passionate about), have the best Instagram feed, the most likes on Facebook. It’s an age where a person is defined by not what they do, but how many followers they have. But we all want to be the tallest, the fastest, the smartest, the coolest. All in one body and soul that has only been alive for fourteen years.

Plus, you’re inundated with truckloads of stress through relationships, school and the harsh truth that this world is a complete mess. When we turn on the TV, we are blinded by the same horrible news: murders, suicide bombers, mass shootings, dying children. I still cannot understand what is the point of war. We still live in a world of racism. People judging one another by their skin colour makes no sense to me.

Like a forked path, at 14 you reach a road where you have to make choices. There’s so much pressure to do the wrong thing.

For example, you could be at the bus stop with a friend and he could say: “Hey, do you want to wag school and go to the beach for the day instead?” Imagine the intense pressure upon you as you have an angel/devil moment. The angel tells you to go to school. The devil side of you says “One time won’t hurt… and do you really want to keep being a teachers’ pet?”

As we get older, I know that peer pressure gets more intense. Kids at 14 are bracing ourselves for the future, which might involve drugs or alcohol and we’ll be faced with that same angel/devil moment again but with things that have far worse consequences than just wagging school for a day.

You have to hope that your childhood has given you enough strength to deal with whatever life throws at you.

Nobody likes to talk about puberty. But it’s a fact of life at fourteen. When you get a growth spurt, you realise how good it is to be tall.

I’ve found the whole ‘voice breaking’ phase quite interesting. It’s a weird feeling. Recently, I was talking to a really good looking girl. I thought it was going well until my voice turned into some alien-like creature trying to communicate with a mixture of high pitched and deep tones and everything went downhill from there.

Being 14 also means crazy mood swings. One moment you feel you’re on cloud nine, then you have days when you’re down in the dumps. Then there’s all the hairy nonsense I don’t want to get into.

At 14, family is a big part of my life. It’s my parents who love me and would carry me to bed if I fell asleep on the couch in the middle of a movie. They try to relate to what I’m going through but, the truth is, they went through adolescence a long time ago and their memories are very thin. Also, times have changed a lot since they were my age. How would they have behaved if they had the internet in ‘the olden days?’ Would they have been addicted to an iPad or resisted temptation? Would they have lied on their social media, pretending life was going really well when it wasn’t going great at all?

I’m lucky to have some really fun and caring friends, boys as well as girls. I’m an athlete and recently competed in the International Children’s Games in Taiwan and I made some incredible friends there, particularly Canadian and German kids. I miss them, even though I only knew them for a short time.

My friends care about me, they keep me entertained and I know they’re there for me during times when I don’t want to share problems with my family.

At 14, I have my own hopes and dreams which are all unique to me. I want to achieve a lot, pursue a medical career when I’m older and, in my own way, make the world a happier place. But, in just four more years, I will be an adult. I want to enjoy being young without worrying about the future. Is it a good thing or a sad thing that my childhood will soon be over?

By Luke van Ratingen (14-year-old)

The original article was published by the Huffington Post and is available here.


The talk: boys and puberty

The talk. It’s the conversation most parents dread – how to age-appropriately prepare their boys for the rough ride puberty usually takes on their bodies. Boys are hitting puberty a lot faster these days, with one in five experiencing pubescent signs as young as eight years of age. By age ten, more than half of tween boys show definitive signs – growth of body hair, skin changes and body odour.

Experiencing puberty at a younger age is a double whammy for boys who may be too young to understand and reason about changes to their bodies. There is a great influx of hormones into the boys’ bodies yet their brains are not developed enough to know how to deal with the effect of the hormones – i.e. erratic behaviour and thought processes. Tween boys are trying to cope with major hormonal changes many years before their minds and emotions are ready for it.

The national snapshot of puberty among 8-13 year olds in Australia, published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies last month revealed most boys (80-90 per cent) will have significant growth spurts and a deeper voice by 13 (with most experiencing initial growth spurts at 10 years of age).

AIFS associate professor Dr Ben Edwards said parents needed to be mindful of the earlier start to puberty among tweens.

“Parents are often reticent about having ‘the chat’ but this is an issue parents need to look out for from Grade 3 or 4 onwards,” he said.

The Raising Children Network offers some tips on discussing puberty with your child;

  • It’s not always easy to talk to children about their bodies. But it’s important to have a series of open and relaxed conversations before puberty starts. This will help children feel OK when their bodies start to change.
  • Using the right words when you’re talking about body parts is important. This helps to make it clear that talking about your body is just a normal part of life – it doesn’t need special or secret words.
  • You can also use a three-step process to kick-start a discussion about puberty:
    • o Find out what your child already knows
    • o Give your child the facts and correct any misinformation
    • o Use the conversation as an opportunity to talk about your values
    • Sometimes, you can start a conversation by picking up on a scene in a movie or TV show, a book that you’ve both read, or a comment on the radio as you’re driving in the car.
    • Have the big conversations when your child is ready to listen. During puberty, children can swing between having lots of energy and being very tired. This is normal, but it does mean that your child might not always be open to ‘important’ talks.
    • Your child might not want to share everything with you, so try not to force communication. Even when relationships with parents are untroubled, young people appreciate being able to discuss concerns confidentially. Your child might be interested in talking to the school counsellor or a GP.





Online games yield better marks: new study

Regularly playing online video games can benefit school results of teens, according to new research out of RMIT in Melbourne.

There has been fierce debate in past years whether video games are beneficial or detrimental to young boys’ development and academic results. From too much gaming causing a lack of communication skills and excessive screen time leading to poorer sleep patterns and dangers of cyber predators – to, the flipside, videogames teaching teen and tween boys key maths and science skills, team playing skills and resilience.

The study published this week by RMIT Melbourne was based on the globally-recognised Program for International Student Assessment which saw researchers base their findings on results of tests on more than 12,000 Australian 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science, as well as data on their online activities.

RMIT School of Economics, Finance and Marketing associate professor Alberto Posso said the research found video games could help students apply and sharpen skills learnt at school.

“Students who play online games almost every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science.”

“When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading and science that you’ve been taught during the day,” he said.

“Teachers should consider incorporating popular video games into teaching – so long as they’re not violent ones.”

He said teens who regularly used social media tended to have lower scores than those who played online games.

“Students who are regularly on social media are, of course, losing time that could be spent on study – but it may also indicate that they are struggling with maths, reading and science and are going online to socialise instead.”

He said it was also important to look beyond the findings to other factors which could have major influence over the academic results of a teenager today, for instance skipping classes or having to repeat an academic year could impact results as badly or worse than high social media usage.