Raising good sports

It’s near impossible to bubble wrap a country kid, and studies suggest it’s a bad idea to try.

DO they breed them tougher in the country?

I’m pondering this question after I was shocked last week to read that a primary school in Melbourne is following a growing trend in banning games like tiggy, tag and skipping because many children apparently can’t handle losing.

The lack of resilience in some children means teachers are wasting recess and lunch dealing with conflict.

Apparently this is off the back of parents “cotton wooling” their kids, or – and this is my favourite - to quote an American mother, “the ‘every special little snowflake is a winner’ mentality”.

It’s an outlook that can contribute to poor physical coordination, obesity and possibly the worst, robbing a child of opportunities to learn through experience.

But is this happening in the country?

Looking around and in my experience, mental and physical resilience starts at a young age.

Aside from the ups and downs of farming life, there’s more outside time, work and responsibility from a young age. And maybe there is less distraction and more observation and reflection: seeing, tasting, feeling, smelling and hearing.

I remember my first little poddy lamb that Dad gave me when I was five, I loved the fuzzy feel of Merino lambs with their little micro-tufts of wool. We kept Kermit alive for two days until he died one night snuggled in front of the fire.

It was an experience that taught me about birth, reward, love, death and grief… and the importance of colostrum. Feelings I’ve never forgotten and no doubt, helped shape my understanding of life.

The pros of bringing up children in the country or on-farm are no secret. Let’s face it, how often do you hear of people moving into metro areas because it’s better for their children?

The American Farm Bureau was just given a $5 million grant by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to find out why farm kids seem to be healthier compared to their city mates.

Results from a similar study last year, found that children who grow up on farms and have regular exposure to elements such as dust, pollen and manure, have stronger immune systems as a result.

The same study found farm kids are 30 to 50 per cent less likely to develop allergies than children who live in the city. It’s near impossible to bubble wrap a country kid, and studies suggest it’s a bad idea to try.

There has also been some frightening results from a study lead by Dr Louise Hardy from The University of Sydney who researched nearly 7000 students in NSW. According to the study that featured in the International Journal Paediatrics in 2012, due to their torpid lifestyles, most kids lack basic movement skills like running, jumping, catching and throwing.

By Year Two, only 10pc of children could sprint, jump, side gallop and leap. Dr Hardy says that many schools don’t give enough time for kids to learn these skills and that “parents mistakenly believe that children naturally learn those fundamental movements. But children need to be taught them.”

She says they need to be playing with their kids - give them a ball, not a DVD.

Are parents becoming lazy? An iPad and bag of chips is an easy option that will entertain many kids but is sure to add little or no value to their mental and physical development. All ok in moderation of course, but that’s not always the case.

It’s no surprise reports by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show a strong rise in children’s “tv time” and use of computers and internet while also showing childhood obesity is on the up.

Living in the country with often expensive or compromised internet access, more outdoor activity, less convenience of unhealthy food and an all round difference in culture may see us sitting behind the urban kids for all the good reasons.

It begs the question though, when schools are having major problems with kids deciding not to play a game of tiggy because they don’t want to take their turn as “it”, you seriously wonder how they’ll cope being knocked back from a job interview at the local cinema when they’re 16. How will these parents protect little Johnny from a downward spiral of depleting self-esteem because someone said no, and gave the job to a better skilled candidate?

Just last week I wrote an article on depression. If we don’t start encouraging young humans to grow through living in reality, being physically and mentally stimulated and dealing with the ups and downs of our existence, the mental health picture may be even more colourful in a decade.

I might also add with Generation Y now having children, it will be fascinating to see how those children fare, given my generation is known for its “feelings of entitlement, want for instant gratification, need for congratulation and high expectations.”

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
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5/11/2013 8:03:57 AM

Blow up the TV. Thats the place to start.
5/11/2013 8:38:39 AM

Great article Sam. As a proud parent of three young adults in their mid-twenties I feel I can speak will some experience on this subject. Our kids were raised on a farm in far western NSW.We always encouraged them to play outside and help care for animals and the home garden which was theirs as much as ours. Even though we lived 60ks from town we always took them to little A's every Sunday.We all loved this as it was something we did as a family on a regular basis. Life is simple,why make it complicated.
5/11/2013 10:14:49 AM

Great article Sam. There are plenty of signs to point out that a larger proportion of our kids are not going to cope with a life "handed to them on a plate".
5/11/2013 10:57:53 AM

Thanks, Sam. Working alongside parents, really contributing to the family from an early age, is the best way I know to built self-esteem and confidence. Not the superficial, I'm the special little snowflake kind, but the real, self-aware reality of who I am and what I can do. A few disappointments and knock-backs in later years are seen for what they are, just a part of real life. I think that you're really on to something when you link cotton-wool upbringing with depression and other mental health problems.
Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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