Elephants are amongst the world’s most clever animals, they’re social, understanding friendly and warm. They enjoy the company of other elephants and need frequent exercise to maintain their health and happiness. In the wild, they live in herds of up to 100 elephants. They travel up to 40 miles a day. They play, go for a dip in rivers and are on the move all the time. In their natural environment, they can live for up to 60 years. In captivity, elephants are often isolated or in units of two or three. They’re robbed of the socialization that’s necessary for their well being and regularly show signs of stress like head bobbing. Often, they have little room to exercise causing them to become depressed and overweight. They’re prone to chronic health problems – tuberculosis, arthritis, and foot abscesses. Elephants in captivity die before the age of 40 (Mar et al., 2012).
Like elephants in the zoo, modern children spend much of their time in captivity, enclosed in vehicles, shuttled from one indoor activity to another – sometimes without even glancing up from a handheld screen. They panic at the thought loosing mobile phone coverage (Lougheed, 2008). Modern children spend less time than their parents did playing outside. There has been a fundamental shift away from nature to ‘videophilia’ – sedentary activities involving electronic media (Pergams & Zaradic, 2006). The move away from traditional outdoor activity like climbing trees, ropes and wall walls has had a huge impact on children’s health. It has made modern 10-year-olds physically weaker than their counterparts living in the 1990s.They can do fewer sit ups, are less able to hang from bars and are less muscular than those brought up in the 1990s. Even though children have the same BMI (height to weight ratio), they are weaker, less muscled and unable to do physical tasks that earlier generations found effortless. The number of sit-ups 10-year-olds can do declined by 27.1 per cent between 199Os and 2000s, arm strength fell by 26 per cent and grip strength by seven per cent. Twice as many children cannot hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars (Cohen et al., 2011). Many children are unable to run as fast or as far as their parents could when they were the same age. Children’s levels of cardiovascular fitness are declining internationally. Studies involving over 25 million children aged between nine and 17, living in 28 countries worldwide over a period of 46 years found it now takes children (aged 9 – 17 years) ninety seconds longer to run a mile than their counterparts did in the 1970s. This means children today are about 15% less fit than their parents were when they were children (Tomkinson & Olds, 2007).
Children are becoming more unfit, less active and more sedentary. Climbing trees, walls and fences used to be standard for children, but parents, school authorities and ‘health and safety’ have curbed the natural inclination of our children. The wild child survey prepared for the Heritage Society of Ireland in 2010 showed that Irish children spend less and less time playing outside. They have become prisoners and their home is their new “exercise yard” (Carver et al., 2008). Falling off a tree used to be a lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now fear of possible injury and litigation stops the child climbing in the first place. The obsession with children’s safety in every aspect of their lives has meant instead of letting them go outside to play, parents fill their children’s free time with organized activities. Their play has become so manicured, scheduled and planned. It’s clean and bleached, timed and measured. Maybe sometimes it just needs to be dirty, spontaneous and enjoyable just like wild elephants.
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