While Swiss children in the 1970s spent hours playing outside every day, today they spend on average less than 30 minutes playing unsupervised, according to youth support organisation Pro Juventute.
A third of children either don’t play outside or do so only under constant adult supervision, said a study published on Monday which looked at children aged five to nine.
“Movement and playing outdoors promotes not only children’s health but also their mental wellbeing, their language, emotions and social relationships,” said Urs Kiener from Pro Juventute.
“But while kids in the 1970s spent a large part of their free-time outside and moved around for three to four hours on average a day, today they spend a large part of their school and free time sitting.”
He added that children have a “natural urge to move” and that given the chance they would spend every spare minute playing.
“However, increasing traffic and a high level of construction mean public spaces where children can climb and jump around are increasingly rare,” he said.
Pro Juventute is calling for urban developers to take children’s needs for open spaces near where they live seriously and to give them greater consideration at the planning stage.
“Children can’t choose where they play – they are tied to their immediate environment,” added Petra Stocker, project coordinator for play culture at Pro Juventute.
The study authors said decisive factors of whether children play outdoors, and for how long, are whether parents consider play areas dangerous, whether they are accessible and whether there is the possibility for interaction with other children.
Nowadays, children in Switzerland play outdoors for 47 minutes a day – of which 29 minutes are on their own, unsupervised.
Clear regional differences were noted: German-speaking children are left unsupervised for 32 minutes a day on average; those in the French-speaking part of the country for only 20 minutes.
What’s more, one in seven children in Switzerland never plays outdoors and one in five does so only under constant adult supervision.
Stocker said a family’s income had a direct influence on the environment in which a child grows up.
While half of children whose parents have an intermediate school certificate live in a good or very good environment, the study found that is the case for only 19% of children whose parents have a low school certificate.
“These children are doubly disadvantaged because they not only spend less time outside but attend fewer activities and courses for which one has to pay,” she said.
The study was carried out for Pro Juventute by the University of Fribourg, the Ludwigsburg Protestant University of Applied Science in Germany and the market research institute GfS Switzerland.
Researchers spoke to 649 families of all social classes with children aged 5-9 in German and French-speaking Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch and agencies