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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 01/07/2014

I had the pleasure of making breakfast for a Romanian family the other morning. They had got off the sleeper from London and then made their way to Glasgow airport to hire a car and then came to me in Stirlingshire - about a 40 minute drive away. After breakfast the family were going to drive to Fife which was going to take them 50 minutes. However, before they got in the car again the parents wanted to take their young daughters to the local park so they could run about and play. I was only too happy to accompany them but I was slightly surprised as they hadn’t been sedentary for all that long.  But my judgment is likely to be flawed as I was inevitably using Scottish standards!

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that a study entitled the Global Matrix on the Physical Activity of Children and Youth found that children in Scotland were the least physically active out of 15 countries from five continents. Both England and Scotland did badly but Scottish children came last in the overall physical activity category.  Only 19% of Scottish boys and 11% of 11-15 year olds meet recommendations for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.  Scottish kids did top the poll for one activity, however – using screens in their leisure time.

The issue doesn’t seem to be lack of opportunities for play or lack of political will. Scotland did relatively well when it came to the availability of parks and playgrounds as well as ‘government strategies and investment’.

So why does Scottish children fare so badly when it comes to physical activity? It is tempting to say that weather plays a part and it may make a contribution. However, Scandinavian countries often have colder weather than we do yet their children play for hours outdoors.

As far as I could see from my discussion with parents at various events recently they don’t encourage their kids to play outdoors because they are scared of accidents or child molesters. Certainly the traffic is much worse than it was a few decades ago but this shouldn’t stop children from playing in the park as an adult can always walk there and back with younger children.  And when it comes to non-accidental child deaths, the UK has the lowest rate in western Europe, except for Denmark.

The UK has one of the highest TV viewing figures in Europe and this may be why parents exaggerate the risks posed to children if they are outside playing. Considerable research has shown that extensive tv viewing leads to what has been termed ‘the mean world syndrome’ whereby viewers believe the world to be a scarier and more dangerous place than it actually is.

I had a temporary bout of this recently. I watch very little telly but I was given various boxes of the American crime drama Breaking Bad which is pretty violent and contains lots of nasty characters.  Like many people I got pretty hooked and found myself watching 2-3 hours at a time.  During this period I caught myself being much more nervous if I was out for a walk with my dog and saw someone coming towards me.

I don’t live my life watching that kind of programme. I would far rather read, go on line or listen to music. But the Breaking Bad episode of my life, as it were, gave me some insight into how a constant diet of crime programme can make people fearful and less trusting of others.

Could it be that one of the biggest casualties of this heightened fear are children who are then encouraged to stay indoors? Of course, they may not put up too much opposition to these constraints  - as they spend so much time on screen based entertainment themselves many of them may also see the world as mean.

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