Technology can boost children’s physical activity

While technology is often blamed for increasing levels of physical inactivity and obesity, children’s development experts are looking for innovative use of technology and computer games that encourage children to engage in physical activity. 

“In contemporary societies, there is a growing need for products that can encourage children to play. This is especially true of physical play, given the increasing problem of obesity in all industrialized countries, a problem that is becoming a threat to the health of children and young people,” explained Carsten Jessen, Danish Associate professor, from the Danish University of Education in Copenhagen.

“Part of this problem is the decrease in physical play activities among children. Compared to earlier generations of children, today there is a lack of inspiration for play”, added Jessen.

Children’s social interaction is changing

Jessen has drawn attention to the issue that one of the decisive changes in children’s social lives is that they interact less with children of other ages.

“Younger children have fewer opportunities to derive inspiration for their games from older children. This, in itself, can explain a great deal of the increase in the use of interactive media, in that children today are much more dependent upon external inspiration to initiate their play”. added Jessen.

There has been a decrease in accessible places and space for physical play, especially in urban areas, where uncontrolled play areas are becoming increasingly rare, and where the fear of letting children be on their own has grown.

Technology for physically activating children

Among childhood researchers, and in most public discussions about childhood, it is very common to hold the media and technology responsible.

Jessen, who presented at the Child in the City conference in Rotterdam, introduced a project called “Playware and Ambient Play Spaces”.

“The idea behind “playware” and “ambient play spaces” is to acknowledge the contemporary conditions and to recognize technology as part of the solution by creating products that can support users in utilizing the existing urban spaces”, explained Jessen.

“The development of ubiquitous, pervasive and mobile computing makes it possible to build new play equipment and play environments, which contains intelligent technology that can create physical play among children and youth.”

About Carsten Jessen

Carsten Jessen is associate professor at the Department of Educational Anthropology, The Danish University of Education in Copenhagen.

His writings and publications comprise articles and books on the impact of media and recent technologies like computer games and the internet on children’s play behaviour. His main research areas are children’s play culture, the educational use of computer games, and children’s media culture with a recent focus on the possibilities afforded by ICT and pervasive computing for developing games that can stimulate children and youth to engage in physical play.

Currently, he takes part in cross-disciplinary research projects on “intelligent” playgrounds in collaboration with researchers from the field of ambient intelligence and robotics.

Author: Marketa Vesela

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