Young Minds – positive action for better nurturing

Video of a head teacher in China helping his students exercise using dance in the playground

This proposal focuses on using technology to develop the right kind of mindset in our children. Specifically, how it can help form habits that last a lifetime and inform day-to-day decisions.

A country’s children are its most precious cargo. The embodiment of what a nation stands for – its values, culture and ethos. Treasuring that asset and nurturing its development is a top priority.

Yet we see rising incidents of child obesity and mental health problems. Attempts to educate about the dangers of fast food and poor diet only go so far. It’s time to take positive actions to address some of the core issues and do something concrete to achieve change for the better.

Fun is the key ingredient

This is about teaching children how to look after their basic health. Making that part of the curriculum and giving them the tools to monitor themselves and the knowledge to know what to do with the information their technology gives them.

Getting their school day off to an engaging and positive start sets the focus for keeping bodies and minds active and mobile. Add a level of encouragement to take daily exercise. Those of a certain age who hated PE for very good reasons might doubt that this can be done. The key to unlocking it for the next generation is “Fun”.

That’s why we believe that technology is the channel through which to deliver this service. Children have grown up with it, enjoy using it, rapidly adapt to new concepts, and generally communicate through their devices.

The start of the day sets the right mindset

We believe that success stems from the right start to the child’s school day. If correctly stimulated, children take on board knowledge and actions that help them to progress and to focus well. A positive and active daily routine becomes habit when it’s presented in a way that engages young minds.

Every child has their own different morning personality, just like their parents do. Homes have different morning routines, different parent schedules and differing ethos. It’s impossible to impose a standard in the home the way it can be done at school.

Parents can help ensure that children get adequate sleep and the right kind of breakfast to set them up for the day. To a large extent, parental influence wanes once a child walks through the school gates. We need to make good activities a habit that can be taught.

The top dangers to children’s health

Obesity is the umbrella effect end result. NHS Digital reports that
• 34% of year 6 children were either overweight or obese in 2017/18
• 20% of 10-11 year olds and almost 10% of 4-5 year olds are obese

The causative factors need to be addressed individually:
Sugar – possibly the biggest killer if intake is not restricted. Ask any corner shop assistant about school time. They have seen what schoolchildren consume in the morning – cans of Coke, Pepsi and, especially these days, the most popular ones are fruity fizzy pops. A study by Harvard researchers, involving 120,000 people over 30 years, established that every sugary drink measurably increases the risk of heart attack.
Diet – fast food and more sugars just make children fatter.
Insufficient exercise – it’s seen as boring and “horrible”
Lethargy – lack of stimulation to take any action. Hobbies and interests engage children. In fact, they are a critical component of growing up.

Exercise can greatly assist in these types of problems.

Not just exercise but also occupying minds and deploying spare time productively. We don’t claim to have all the answers, nor how exactly to put these principles into practice. That will be done with input from health and education professionals. However, it’s not rocket science to identify what general areas would deliver quick wins as well as long term benefits:
• Walking
• Cycling
• Running as in team games
• Swimming
• Voluntary Work such as litter picking or beach cleaning
Yoga – Studies reported by the Harvard Medical School show that children benefit by improved self esteem, memory, classroom behaviour, academic performance and focus, plus evidence that it reduces anxiety and stress. Yoga focuses internally, giving children a pathway to listen to their thoughts, ideas, feelings and bodies. It helps them to identify and deal with stress, and to learn about controlling themselves.
Meditation and Mindfulness has been shown to ease ADHD and ODD behaviours and also helps to de-stress parents

What type of technology could be adapted?

Apple’s new Watch 4 is an example of wearable computers. These have capability for monitoring physical wellbeing. Apps developed for them analyse all manner of health data.

Smart watch technology motivates young people to take actions

Devices like that can now track a body’s vital signs simply by touching a fingertip against it. The data can be analysed as an ECG reading or used intelligently as a Virtual Adviser to pinpoint actions that should be taken.

They can monitor activity such as walking and climbing steps and report on progress against daily goals. The fact that they double up as a phone, games console and general communication devices make them ideal for use by children.

At time of writing, they are too expensive to be widely adopted but already cheap clones are available. We are not advocating them but merely suggesting that the technology will quickly become cheaper and more easily acquired.

Consider it as being a Virtual Assistant

A wearable device can monitor activity and prompt the wearer. For example:
– You’ve not hit your goal today
– You’re doing amazing! Just 1 mile more.
– Fancy a bike ride?
Interaction like that prompts children to become more inventive and may even perform a more social function like a very positive environmental impact. Once embedded, routines would be carried forward into adult life.

Using the data obtained through technology

We envisage data about activities and health being fed into a central research database, properly and formally aggregated and anonymised for Data Protection. That will be used by professionals and scientists to further understand and develop young minds.

Prevention is better than cure. We feel that this level of data and insight into young minds can provide them with deeper and clearer visions of the future. Perhaps, for example, assessing conditions that young children are diagnosed with these days, such as ADHD, and planning activities for them to improve behaviour.

What roles do parents and schools have in all this?

Most parents aren’t really involved in practices such as these. However, it has potential to develop into a strong movement that is not only going to affect their kids but also their kids’ kids.

Schools are frequently chosen based on proximity – for the majority anyway. Parents do their research into school league tables too, and this could be included in such information adding to a school’s attraction.

This should be a government initiative, not for profit

This whole issue concerns the health of the nation’s children – this generation and the next ones. By instilling the basic mindset and habits successfully, the practice will be carried down to future generations. It requires high level dedicated action to make it happen. This is why we believe it needs to be led by government policy and incentives, not by corporate interests.

The final takeaway

Initiatives like this are a platform for many other tools that use data to future develop young adults. All it takes is one generation of children to make this positive change and that will ripple throughout their lives for a healthy mind and body.

 

Resources/References
Sugary drinks https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/18/harvard-researchers-say-soda-sports-drinks-increase-risk-of-dying.html
Yoga for children’s mental health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3980104/
Meditation for children with ADHD https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3267931/
Apple Watch4 http://fortune.com/2018/12/17/review-apple-watch-series-4/
Foods linked to better brainpower https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/foods-linked-to-better-brainpower
Meditation good for children https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2016/10/18/the-many-benefits-of-meditation-for-children
Obesity in children – NHS Digital https://digital.nhs.uk/news-and-events/latest-news/ncmp

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