The streets are buzzing, but the parks are no longer full of life. The lockdown might have ended several months ago, but the quick-switch to online — from classes to games — that it had necessitated, is proving a hard habit to break. In fact, its impact has been such on young minds that many children, who used to love outdoor sports earlier, are now reluctant to step out.Parks and play areas opened up since November last year in Kolkata, but the children are conspicuous by their absence. A number of them, in fact, got so hooked to playing with their friends online that they are refusing to quit the screen and return to the playgrounds.
In residential complexes and neighbourhoods, parks wear a deserted look, with only a handful of senior citizens and fitness-conscious adults utilising them for morning and evening walks. Sports coaching camps have also recorded a significant drop in attendance. Piyush Shukla, who runs a badminton academy in south Kolkata, said many students have not yet turned up.
While some parents continue to be cautious, there are also many who want their children to return to the playgrounds. Many, however, are unable to coax them on to the green. “I am having a tough time getting my 14-year-old daughter off her cellphone and make her go out even for a walk in the compound,” says Sujata Ghosh, who stays in a south Kolkata residential complex. Ghosh added that “nearly all” of the children in the compound were shying away from the outdoors. “Earlier, they used to play various types of games and ride their cycles, but they all stay confined to their homes now,” she told TOI.
At South City Residential Complex, the scene is no different. Here, the park and game arenas opened three months ago, but very few kids reclaimed the spaces. “Less than 20% of kids are back at the playground,” says Manak Daga, president, South City Welfare Association. “We hardly see any teenager playing in the open these days.”
Lockdown in Bengal was announced on March 23, a day after the nationwide ‘Janta Curfew’, but parks and public places had begun shutting down prior to that. Sports activities were allowed to begin last September and children’s parks were opened the following month.
Many parents, such as Priyanka Nag, have no idea how to get their kids off the cellphone. Pre-lockdown, she simply refused to hand him over the device, but it’s now become an essential part of his study and relaxation routine. “Prior to the lockdown, he was engaged in lots of activities, from attending tuitions to playing with other children. Now, all his activities are confined to the screen,” she says.
Psychologists say the effects of the pandemic on children is profound. “I have seen plenty of children in the past year, who are unwilling to step out despite being interested in outdoor games,” says clinical psychiatrist Siladitya Roy, adding, “Screens have become an addiction. Many students are feeling demotivated and disinterested in studies, and have developed lifestyle issues. They are turning obese owing to sedentary habits and a lack of exercise.”
Child psychologist Devika De Ghosh is of the opinion that parents and teachers would have to play a more active role to get children off screens. “Parents have to encourage them to go out and play while maintaining Covid precautions. Teachers should also encourage them to play outdoor games. Kids should be praised and rewarded if they come up with responsible living and active behaviour. We all need to tread the middle path,” she said
Source: Times of India