Emma Kenny: The skills gap in the Wii-generation

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The Independent Online

Think back to your childhood, how often can you remember spending hours sitting inside watching TV, unable to venture outside to play freely? Hopefully not many of you.

Now, ask children today the same question and you may - or may not be - surprised by their responses. More than likely they will be able to talk about their latest computer game than discuss the last time they skipped.

Kids today are spending ever-increasing hours engaging in "readymade" entertainment and it doesn't take a genius to work out how many hours less they are spending in imaginative, creative and energetic play.

Fruit Shoot has conducted a large-scale and robust study involving 4,000 parents, exploring the demise of traditional childhood activities, including skipping, conkers and hopscotch.

While some readers may be unconcerned by such findings, take a moment to consider why such traditional games are integral to development. Imagination breeds creativity, playing together helps to build team work skills, and healthy competition aids ambition and determination. Now think about adulthood; lets be honest these core skills are the very attributes essential to success!

The "Big Mothered" mentality of over-protectionism needs to be challenged; with 80 per cent of parents saying they have had enough of the officialdom that has seen conker fights banned and 59 per cent of parents stating that they believe their childhood’s were more enjoyable than their children's. Action needs to happen.

It makes perfect sense to human beings to protect their offspring; my own children are core to my happiness, so if I am constantly informed that the world is a dangerous place, I will protect my children from it. You see, that's the sad fact of the matter; children live what they learn. If they are told they cannot climb trees or play conkers; do not be surprised when they are unwilling as teenagers and adults to try new activities or respond to new experiences with confidence.

Like any time honoured traditions, games need to be passed on, skills need to be learnt and children need to be offered the space to gain competence in their new found hobbies. It’s up to parents to ensure that these opportunities are plenty. The fact that this study highlights that in my day 94% of girls often skipped whereas only 24 per cent of our modern day girls do; it suggests in twenty years this classic past time will be a distant memory.

Childhood should be a golden time, one where "responsibility" is a word they will learn one day; a place where the garden can be transformed into an island of imagination and hours can be whiled away playing pirates and detectives.

Every parent wants the very best for their child so let’s be responsible for taking a deep breath and giving childhood back - a childhood which enables and empowers them to explore, experience and learn varied skills: the very essence of childhood and the foundation of their future development.

Fruit Shoot has created a website, a place that heroes both traditional and non-traditional skills can be tried out; a place where kids can be kids. Log on to www.fruitshoot.com; pick an activity then unplug the computer and go out and practice!

Emma Kenny is GMTV’s resident psychologist and an ambassador of the Fruit Shoot Skills campaign, www.fruitshoot.com

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