People keep telling me that kids of today are sitting in their rooms tapping away feverishly on iPads, iPods and mobiles instead of being outside and involved in recreation the way previous generations were.
The cliché is strong and media drives it. Cheap current affairs journalism assures me that our obesity problem stems from this lack of physical activity.
Anecdotally, I constantly hear about the lack of kids on bikes, skateboards, tennis and basketball courts and technology is the primary reason cited.
The parks do appear empty, the courts vacant and the streets void of active kids after school hours, yet such commentary is narrow and doesn’t realistically account for the whereabouts of our children.
We are witnessing a cultural change in the way our kids ‘play’. A fear-mongering media, technological advancement and an increasingly litigious environment has driven our kids from casual play to more organised and structured activities.
As a father of two, the picture I see through the lens of my own children’s recreational habits, is very different from the one peddled by the ‘back in the day’ crowd.
What I see is a trend for kids to be involved in organised sport as opposed to the ‘free play’ and mischievous type of fun I enjoyed around thirty years ago.
These days we get in the car to exercise; we travel to far flung places to represent clubs across a range of sports. As a result, kids gathering in cul-de-sacs and local parks for a makeshift game of cricket or touch football, has become something of a memory.
As a by-product, the cost to parents has become exorbitant in recent times. Somewhere along the line, people worked out that there was a mighty lot of money to be made from kids sport.
Those in question apparently had a picture of me on their whiteboard with a red bullseye on my face during their planning sessions. As I researched this article, the numbers started to scare me.
My kids would be fairly typical in Australia. They love their sport, yet with study and artistic pursuits also taking up considerable amounts of time, it doesn’t dominate their lives as it can for some extremely high performing children.
The year normally begins with Netball registration. At two hundred dollars per player, the sport isn’t cheap and the associated costs add weight.
Two pairs of netball specific shoes that protect ankles and provide ample weight in the coolness and credibility status are purchased over the Christmas break for the grand total of three hundred and twenty bucks.
Skimping on the shoes could be an option for some and one that I have tried before. The fifty dollar trainers were destroyed by mid-season and a second pair purchased with regret. I promised myself to never go down that road again.
A couple of pairs of bloomers and socks equate to an extra sixty dollars and we thank our lucky stars that the actual netball uniform still fits from the previous season.
Not sure where my two hundred actually goes, I’m sure the little trophy each player receives at seasons end costs something, yet somehow I always feel like I am making insurance companies and local associations wealthy.
Watching representative teams parade around in rather impressive looking tracksuits before boarding coaches to carnivals and competitions also raises questions about my yearly subscriptions to these associations.
My eldest took a chance and enrolled in football at her new high school despite being a novice and Sunday mornings were added to Saturday morning netball commitments.
Dad was dutifully asked to mentor a team of wonderful young women, keen to learn, yet still grappling with some of the basic fundamentals of the game.
Football involved one hundred and seventy dollars in registration fees; sixty five dollars for a club shirt, one hundred and ten for boots and shin pads. Ouch.
Some relief as daughter number two took no part in winter sport on Sundays.
As spring came around, both girls were asked to participate in teams. The newly crowned teenager cost me ninety dollars for registration in a touch football comp to keep up the spirit and fitness levels from the recently completed football season, and the nine year old needed one-hundred and twenty five dollars for Oz-Tag registration.
Throw in thirty five dollars for some comically sized Oz-tag shorts and forty dollars for a rather basic pair of boots to get her through her first season and the little one had made up the shortfall from her quiet winter.
Luckily, dancing has become less of a burden due to a quality troupe, run through my daughter’s high school. Two hundred dollars gets me out of trouble for the year, with only a sixty dollar costume adding to the cost.
Compared to the prices of private dance schools the girls attended at younger ages, this is a massive financial win for me.
Each year the principal of the school stands onstage at the completion of the concert that showcases the talent of girls and boys of all ages and thanks the parents excessively for kindly letting their children learn the art of dance.
This is code for, ‘Thanks for helping me build the new east wing on my property, and putting my children through the best schools in the area.’ The ‘license to print money’ cliché has never been more aptly used in my opinion.
Let’s throw in five terms of swimming lessons and squads across both children at one hundred and eighty dollars per term and two hundred dollars a term for my little one’s half-hour tennis lesson and the full picture is getting somewhat grim.
A weekday gymnastics glass sets us back a further one hundred and eighty dollars per term.
My financial misery saw me pay a measly forty dollars for the new tennis racquet, although it did have a picture of Roger Federer on it so it must be good.
A spring netball comp rounds out the year for the little one and is remarkably inexpensive at thirty five dollars.
For the statistically minded, here is a visual snapshot of my kids plan to send me broke.
Most parents I speak to concur with the rising costs involved in keeping their kids involved in physical activity. In a straw poll among parents in our local community we are running around fifteenth in terms of money committed to our kids activities.
Involvement in individual sports such as golf, triathlon or tennis can place even more financial stress on families, particularly where sibling numbers exceed the nuclear-like two that my family contains.
The trend towards organised activities has created an unfair perception of young people and their participation, or lack of, in sport. The reality is that issues of insurance, safety and logistics, have shifted the dynamic and kids are as busy as they have ever been.
Unfortunately, the cost of these activities has become increasingly hard to manage and potentially alienates kids from less affluent families.
It is no coincidence that health issues and the stigma around overweight and lazy youth is more prevalent in less affluent families.
If families continue to be subjected to ever increasing fees to see their little ones compete against other kids, the fallout will undoubtedly be a continued stereotype that portrays our youth as lazy and inactive; something, that as a father of young kids, I know is not true.