Inaccessibility of facilities and safety issues putting damper on children’s active lifestyles
THE few children from two different familes were running around causing a ruckus at the hotel gym where I had gone for a run and the noise they were making was really annoying me.
So when they stepped outdoors towards the pool, leaving the door wide open and the hot air in, I decided to close it and lock them out. They didn’t have a room card with them so they couldn’t get back in.
Well, that was the evil thought in my head anyway.
In reality, the moment I saw them walk back towards the door, I went over to unlock it for them and braced myself for more noise.
This happened twice and each time, the children (there were four of them) would take turns to say thank you politely. How do you remain annoyed at well-mannered children?
The truth is, I would probably have done the same if I was their age, although perhaps less polite.
These children didn’t come across as troublemakers. They were just bored and curious like how I feel children should be.
And at a time when society is so quick to judge young people as being obsessed with their screens – whether mobile, desktop or television – it was refreshing to see that these children chose to run around and explore new surroundings.
Two of them – bless their heart – even decided to mimic my workout, causing me to worry that they’d injure themselves.
This got me thinking about how we often lament about young children not engaging in physical activities anymore.
Today’s incident got me wondering if it was really to do with this generation of children.
Watching them, I asked myself where their parents were (one had a maid looking after her). If they had seen their children enjoying being so physical – attempting weightlifting, doing pull-ups and going for a run on the treadmill – would they then encourage this habit?
Even if they were willing to, I wondered how many families could afford a gym membership or send their children to certain classes – whether sports, martial arts or others. It is an unfortunate fact that such lifestyles are only accessible to the privileged – like being able to run around in a hotel.
That these few children would choose to “work out” alongside me was an indication that they were not as adverse to physical forms of play as we imagined them to be.
I wondered if it’s because they had a free gym to use at the hotel, and if they’d be more likely to participate in outdoor facilities if there were more that were accessible to them.
Facilities aside, there are also other factors why young people appear not to get very physical these days.
Whether perception or not, the issue of safety has meant that many parents are less likely to allow their children to roam around the neighbourhood the way we used to.
I don’t remember the last time I saw any of the children in my neighbourhood cycle on the roads, or kick a football or hit a hockey ball, or use their house gates as a fence for badminton.
That my own street has recently opted to build a fence around us to keep outsiders out – workers and shoppers from the nearby shopping centre, and robbers and thieves – is an indication of the levels of security we need to pay for to feel safe. That and reckless drivers speeding on narrow residental streets.
We have read enough stories in the media about children getting knocked down or kidnapped, to justify this sense of fear.
Where does this take us then? Reports earlier this year indicated that more than five million Malaysians are obese, and that 30% of our population are overweight. Back then, our health minister reasoned that it was due to our high-calorie diet and sedentary urban lifestyle.
The diet reason came across as odd to me because I don’t think the kinds of food we eat as Malaysians have changed very much over the years (although, maybe we’re consuming more of it with our increasing mamak supper lifestyle). But with regards to the sedentary lifestyle, for me it is clear what is causing it.
And it’s not always “lazy, apathetic youths.”
We adults have to take the blame for this as well because we are leaving the new generation a less safe place to grow up in, and less of a culture of sports/working out no thanks to our busy lifestyles and weak physical education curriculum in school.
If the drive and imagination of those “annoying” children earlier are anything to go by, we have failed them terribly.
But it’s not too late to fix this. The first step is for us adults to realise that we have to carry the blame as well and then we can start fixing it.
Niki Cheong is a PhD researcher in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham, UK. Connect with him online at www.nikicheong.com/fb