How are our children today? How would you assess the health of a child growing up in today’s world? Would you say that we are producing a healthier child than a generation ago? Two generations ago? Two hundred years ago?
Today’s world, to me, shows a child who is not as healthy in terms of structure and function. In an evolutionary sense, they may not be as sturdy and strong. I realise the strength of what I am saying here and the contention that lays within it. I would question both their physical and their mental health overall, and we could break both of these entities down into many parts. Obviously, as an osteopath, my area of expertise is more akin to talking about their physical health.
So much of their physical health has an effect on their mental health. There is a lot of talk about the sedentary nature of today’s child. The innate movements, the primal movements, that a child is born with, are unfortunately lost as they start to engage in the cultural adaptations of what a modern life means. Research suggests no matter the level of intense activity or exercise they are not undoing the negative implications of sitting more than 85% of their day.
- The average U.S. student is sitting at school an average of 4.5 HOURS A DAY
- For kids ages 8-18, an additional 7 HOURS A DAY in front of a screen, regardless of socioeconomic status
- Combine the sitting at school in front of a screen with driving to school, doing homework, and eating meals, and kids are sitting 85% of their waking hours!
(Source: 2010 survey by Kaiser Family Foundation – Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds)
To qualify this further: to watch a child be able to play and squat at a floor level, or running around during normal daytime activities, is what our body is designed to do. To see a two-year-old be able to squat in a heartbeat, and be able to stay in that position, is theoretically what a human being should be able to do through their whole life. In play they push, pull, twist, throw, lunge and bend, our defined primal movements, yet in the world of the sedentary, this sounds absurd now.
It sounds strange to think that a human being should be able to squat down on their haunches and play, and rest, and communicate, and cook, as Indigenous cultures have done for centuries. Yet today, this seems completely foreign to our way of life.
If anyone knows me, and my passion for what I do, I am continuously trying to have an effect on the sedentary epidemic of sitting. There is a large amount of press now in regards to the ill effects of sitting. The research on sitting, that is being conclusively shown to affect both physical and mental health, as well as cognitive adaptation and performance, is now very strong.
Somehow, we have to have an effect on the way in which our children are moving and growing. We cannot deny that technology is here, but we have to come up with tools to affect how they use this technology, and where they reside while using it.
Canada is the first country which has come up with 24 hour guidelines on movement behavior in which they stipulate no more than 2 hours a day of screen time and therefore sitting.
Do you an experiment for yourself and add up the time your child sits from the second they wake. You may be shocked especially when you consider as an animal we are not meant to sit at all!
I do not fool myself into thinking that I can limit time on technology, as that is up to each individual family and the boundaries they set on the use of devices, and this also flows onto the school parameters. What I would try and do is educate children and their families to be on the move as they use a device. There is no reason why, if a child is on a tablet device, or a phone device, they have to remain sitting. They can play this device at floor level. They will then naturally have to fidget. They can sit cross-legged, they can kneel, they can sit on one side of their buttocks and then swap. They can lay on their stomach, they can kneel leaning onto a coffee table or back onto a couch.
What I would ask, is that every fifteen minutes, that the child has to change their position.
Sitting in a chair or a couch for any longer than fifteen minutes may be doing your child, or for that matter any adult, harm.
We need to change the way in which they move. Unfortunately, for a child, the world exists within one to two feet of their space or face. Is a child actually looking at the horizon? Are children actually allowing themselves to look at the horizon and daydream? Looking in the distance into space is therapeutic, and makes the child change their breathing pattern. It may nurture, bathe, and creates stillness within the central nervous system. This is therapeutic, and this is essential to health. Today’s world is full of passive stimulation, whereby the child is taking on that stimulation the whole time not allowing for a state of stillness which is healthy.
So what sort of child are we producing? And therefore, what is their adaptation as they grow into adulthood? All our patterns are set in childhood, so the same patterns may exist as strain and ill health in the adult. How do we measure this? Time will tell the consequences, and I think we’re already starting to see the effects. So my aim, using one simple device such as a standing desk, is to just use one symbol or one tool to start the process of education on how a child needs to adapt in an evolutionary sense. We need to resist the cultural adaptation and conveniences, but also in the same breath, work with them.
As I stated, we cannot change the fact that technology is a huge part of our life, but we need to make it a public acceptance that sitting, in a child’s body, is doing unforetold damage. It may not be exhibited in a child, but will be exhibited in an adult. We see this every day in our osteopathic practice – so my aim, and my goal, like any other time, is to spread the word on this topic, and send a broader message to the community, and start to create a wave of change within our children’s lives. Of course, anything I say for a child, we need to also do for ourselves as adults. It’s time for change.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion, and I’d love any promotion, feedback, sharing or likes, because at the end of the day, all I’m trying to do is help our kids through the formation of our not for profit “UpStanding kids” www.upstandingkids.org . The benefits could be immeasurable.