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Latest research shows that we are bubble wrapping our kids

Latest research shows that we are bubble wrapping our kids with significant consequences for their development

Do you remember how you used to play as a child? Unstructured, often unattended, free play?

These days our children’s lives are so full of schedules, routines, demands and responsibilities.
When do our children get the chance just to be kids?

• Most parents (more than 94%) thought that children should take part in messy play, climb trees, engage in rough-and-tumble games, use repurposed parts, ride bikes/scooters and use real tools; however, only 5.7% of children actually regularly do all of these things.

• 66.2% of NZ parents believe that relaxing the safety rules and introducing ‘risky’ play practices and equipment in schools would enhance children’s development but this contrasts with a finding that only 14.8% of NZ children are often allowed to play outside in the rain.

• Over 80% of Kiwi children are spending more than two hours a day in front of a screen during the week, with even more doing the same on the weekend.

Persil has partnered with the AUT Human Potential Centre to understand the State of Play in New Zealand. It’s their view that unless we let Kiwi kids indulge in unstructured free play we deprive them of the chance to really develop their independence, creativity and a good sense of judgment when it comes to taking risks. This may well mean that we erode the qualities that we Kiwis have become known for; ingenuity, resilience and inventiveness.

The statistics revealed in the State of Play survey, including those outlined above, have motivated Persil to partner with AUT and kick-start a mission to bring back Real Play.

Dr Scott Duncan from the AUT Human Potential team says, “New Zealand is experiencing rapid change. There is a growing concern that our increasingly risk averse society is contributing to a generation of ‘bubble-wrapped’ children who have limited opportunities to play creatively, instigate physical activity, overcome challenges independently, and learn how to manage risks appropriately.

“Secondly, we are in the middle of a digital revolution, and advanced technology presents us with increasing opportunities to distance ourselves from the outside world. While technology offers us all amazing ways to learn and connect, overuse can contribute to our kids in particular not getting outside and exploring their natural environment.”

Holly MacCue, Persil Marketing, says, “The ‘new norm’ for our children is a lifestyle that involves less movement, more screen time, and less time spent exploring and enjoying their natural environment. As a result, many of our children are becoming inactive and less likely to experience the adventure and the magic of real play that previous generations enjoyed in their own childhoods.”

Real Play is defined as challenging, stimulating, and involves some physical risk which is important for healthy growth and development in children. Kids grow in confidence, independence, self-awareness and resilience. Real Play includes things like climbing trees, engaging in rough-and-tumble play, and playing with mud, water and sand and using repurposed objects found in the natural environment to build and create.

State of Play in New Zealand

The nationwide State of Play Survey, conducted by AUT’s Human Potential Centre in conjunction with Persil, asked over 2,000 Kiwi parents about their perceptions of children’s independent movement, and how they feel about a less structured and more traditional approach to play.

The survey involved a really diverse range of Kiwi families, in rural locations, small towns and cities. Families had one to eight or more children and came from all walks of life and many different ethnic groups.

The survey has highlighted a number of interesting points:

• 78.6% of NZ parents believe that children require regular exposure to actual risk in order to develop risk management skills. Learning to get yourself out of a sticky situation when you are young ensures that you learn to think ahead and plan accordingly – a useful skill as you move into teens and adulthood.

• Nearly 70% of New Zealand children do not often use loose parts (e.g., sticks, tyres, timber) when they play outdoors. Encouraging children to do this helps them develop their creativity and exercise their imaginations. It’s likely that most adult New Zealanders recall building forts and fairy huts out of all sorts of bits and pieces lying around in the garage or backyard – it’s part of our ‘Number 8 wire’ heritage.

• 53.8% of New Zealand children do not often ride bikes, scooters, or other non-motorised vehicles. Learning how to get back up and brush yourself off after a tumble builds resilience and independence.

• Another concern is that 62.7% of NZ parents allow their children to watch television or use an electronic device at dinnertime (although only 17.5% allow it often or always). There’s a wasted opportunity to find out what wonderful adventures they had in the backyard that day!

• Somewhat surprisingly the survey found that mothers were 1.6 times more likely to regularly allow their child to play outside in the rain than fathers. It appears that fathers were more concerned about their child getting sick or getting too messy when playing outside in the rain. Persil were excited to see this statistic – as it’s clear that Mums understand that Persil is able to help the family clean up after messy play.

Dr Duncan says, “As a nation, we need to re-evaluate how we are raising our children. We need to find ways to re-engage children with their communities, promote healthy living, and help them to unlock their full potential.

MacCue adds, “We believe all parents want the best for their children and are open to making positive changes that contribute to their development. What gets in the way of embracing Real Play activities more frequently are societal pressures and restrictions around what being a ‘perfect parent’ looks like. In a world where time is poor, there is a need for more help to make it easier and simpler to embrace Real Play every day.”

In response to the research, Persil has launched a campaign designed to encourage Kiwi parents to foster a sense of adventure and to let children grow and thrive through Real Play. Whether it be spontaneous play with a child in the backyard, making mud pies or building a fort, there are endless ways that families can be encouraged to include Real Play in their daily routines.

Kiwis will have access to a whole raft of tools, information and insights that they can incorporate easily into their daily lives. In addition, the AUT Human Potential Centre has recruited three typical Kiwi families to take part in a programme to extend what they do with their children. The programme will follow the three families as they learn simple ways to include more Real Play in their lifestyles and family time. Results will be shared on persil.co.nz and through facebook.com/PersilNZ.

The campaign will also reach out to Primary Schools, Kindergartens, Community Groups and any other Kiwi concerned about the lack of Real Play in our children’s lives.

Persil invites New Zealanders of all ages to join us on our mission to bring back Real Play. It’s fun, free, simple and great for our kids’ development.


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