New Brunswick — ParticipACTION is taking a stance against couch-potato kids with their ironically placed “Don’t visit our website” advertisements on television and computer screens across the province.
The national organization has been promoting healthy living for decades. They did not foresee, however, that the children of the outdoorsy kids they once pandered to in the halcyon days of Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod’s “keep fit, and have fun!” Body Break would one day become confused and irritated when faced with the problem of what to do in direct sunlight with an inflated ball.
In 2015, with a generation of overweight children glued to screens, ParticipACTION found themselves facing irrelevancy.
“It seemed to kind of just sneak up on us since about the mid-’90s,” said Eugene Smalley, director of ParticipACTION New Brunswick. “We thought, ‘Bah, we’re a rural province; if trees and rocks were good enough for us to play with, then, by golly, it’ll be good enough for our kids, too.’”
Smalley now admits to a lack of foresight, but he believes the solution to the obesity pandemic in the province might just be rooted in the same old-fashioned lifestyle of 20 to 30 years ago. His radical notion is that kids should be allowed to play outside, unsupervised, and take risks.
“The key is not structured play, but unstructured play,” said Smalley. “Let them do what we did as kids. When you ask people what they did when they were younger, their fondest memories are not great feats of athleticism, but flying off a homemade bike ramp and getting 15 stitches in their knee.”
He argues that risk-laden outdoor play teaches limits, thrills, and what hurts. This, in turn, produces a more resilient adult. In fact, the misguided, overprotective blades of today’s “helicopter parents” actually encourages sedentary behaviour in New Brunswick children.
“You see how my ear is kind of misshapen, and my right pinkie is all crooked?” said Fredericton resident Wendell Phinney. “My brothers and I invented our own winter sport when we were kids — tree jumping. By missing my landing branch, I learned that no amount of snow is as fluffy as it looks.”
ParticipACTION has provided The Manatee with a list of games and equipment just waiting for comebacks:
- lawn darts;
- rock fights;
- dodgeball (with, or without ball);
- downhill stunt cycling on old, rusty 10-speeds (no helmets);
- tetherball (on wobbly steel post and chain);
- and metal merry-go-rounds.
And remember…keep fit and have fun!