Jeoffrey Sarpong
Go outside & touch grass
6 mins

Springtime is upon us and with it comes all the components: the beautiful weather, the eternal battle with pollen and the constant use of the phrase “go outside and touch grass”. The phrase “go outside and touch grass” has become a meme to my generation. It symbolises a lack of relationship we have with the outside world and nature. Many would rather stay inside and play video games, or watch TV shows. As a friend once put it: why would I go outside, when all my stuff is in here? However, this way of life is starting to have an effect on us. We’ve become a generation riddled with anxiety, depression and a general pessimistic viewpoint on life. Although we cannot lay this all at the feet of staying indoors, there is something to be said about the effect a lack of sunshine can have on your general mood. 

The question I want to examine is how does this affect families and how can we find a solution to it? In order to figure out the problem, I looked at our fandom study, which found that 36% of parents of children aged 6-14 are worried about their child’s attention span, likely due to the consumption of short form content such as Tiktok and video games, while 41% of parents agree that their child is struggling to find time to engage in other activities. And while 54% of children between these ages play sports in the UK, a whopping 80% say they play video games. There seems to be a growing tension between what parents want for their children and what the children say they prefer instead. Out of all the activities children might do in a week, including gaming, we found that parents rate ‘playing outside’ as their favourite activity for their children to do. Parents on one side of the river, children on the other, someone has to build a bridge between the two. 

Admittedly, I feel like I understand both parent and child. As a fellow member of Gen Z, it wasn’t too long ago that I remember being glued to a screen for hours on end playing video games. We were the first wave of young adults who realised the effect of increased screen time on anxiety levels, attention span and general mood. Think ahead 10 years from now: we’re likely to have a generation of young adults who are less confident about communicating with others in a face to face environment, higher anxiety levels, more introverted. These traits aren't bad within themselves, but sometimes, they tend to limit what we can achieve and are difficult to overcome in our later years. 

Since the pandemic, our lives have moved online with many children choosing to fulfil their emotional and social needs through games such as Roblox. This was also reflected in a study about generational sports fandom where they found that 27% percent of Gen Z consider themselves to be anti-sports fans while 23% consider themselves avid sports fans. As such, we should try to encourage kids to express themselves through sports. Traditionally, sports have had a toxic, competitive element which may explain Gen Z’s decline in interest. Regrettably, the competition creates division amongst fans and rivalries spill out into society and social media through abuse. We need to repackage sports as an emotional, human led experience which brings fulfilment and real connection. The focus needs to be on the inspiring athletes and their achievements together, because within sports exists a beautiful story about connection which Gen Z are crying out for. 

From my experience, I used to stay at home and play video games until I was invited by a friend to join a football team. Joining competitive sports was a major factor in my development. I was part of various teams from around age 11 until 17. I learned how to work as a team with many other kids who were going through the same experiences as me. We would train together, win together and often lose together. It taught me how important commitment and teamwork was at an early age, while also having the most fun I’d ever had. It made me understand the value of hard work. To this day, I’ll say there is nothing better than the feeling of achievement with teammates. 

This is what we mean when we say go outside and touch grass, but it’s often poorly understood because we aren't willing to follow our own advice. However, it’s not all bad; in true British fashion, there is a ray of sunshine amongst the gloomy clouds. Studies have found that “one of the extrinsic sources that influence children’s sporting enjoyment is the involvement of parents. For example, positive parental support such as the provision of praise and encouragement can increase children’s overall enjoyment in sport” This means parents have a role to play in their child’s enjoyment of sports, a responsibility which they should embrace.

We all have a responsibility to get more children and parents involved in sports. Each of us, with a role to play. We can help by supporting children in their pursuit, which includes finding time to actually take part in sports with them. It doesn't have to be just related to sports, children have an incredible imagination and the need for play. Small activities like playing tag with friends outside or going out and throwing around a frisbee are enjoyable activities which children remember fondly. Show them the benefits of playing outdoors, this is what they really want. Genuine connection, and if they can’t find it within their home, they’ll settle for its virtual counterfeit. In the end, I want to encourage parents and children: go outside and touch grass, together!

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