The corona pandemic and the associated severe restrictions have had a significant impact on youth mobility. According to a study commissioned by The National Sports Council (Valtion liikuntaneuvosto), the movement of children and young people has decreased significantly, especially on weekdays. The grassroots sports community has also expressed their concern about the effects of the closure of hobby places, with tens of thousands of hobbyists missing from several sports activities.
The difference in the movement of children and young people compared to the time before the pandemic is tens of percents. The change is explained by the lack of movement during the school days and school travels, as well as the cessation of young people's hobbies. Young people have also experienced the burden of distance learning from school assignments as a barrier to mobility.
The corona pandemic and the restrictions it causes have negatively affected the daily activity of children and young people. Everyday useful exercise and hobbies have been the only forms of exercise for some of the children and young people. Switching to distance learning and suspending hobbies has been the last straw for many young people in terms of mobility. A radical decrease in the amount of exercise is detrimental to the growth and development of children and young people.
According to a study commissioned by The National Sports Council, the situation caused by the corona pandemic required rapid and effective measures to stop the spread of the infection. No one can deny the need of those measures, but the current situation has been going on for a year and restrictions are being continued and even tightened further. However, the immobility of children and young people cannot continue, as the risks for the future are too high.
Children need daily exercise as a basis for their health, because in addition to motor skills, physical control and physical fitness, children learn self-knowledge and social skills in hobbies through exercise. Lack of exercise and the social contacts that come through it also have direct effects on mental health, as immobility increases the risk of depression.
For many young people, going to school, meeting schoolmates and exercising are lifelines that cannot be compromised at the risk of young people’s mental health. Substitute home workouts and games can last for a while, but for many children who usually move a lot, motivation starts to weaken. This is also reflected in increased disruptive behaviour among young people.
The need for corona restrictions cannot be denied, but for children and young people, the logic of the restrictions has been greatly deceived. The proportion of infections among young people has been low throughout the corona pandemic, so children and young people bear an unreasonable burden in combating the virus. From a societal point of view, the consequences of restrictive measures for young people are more serious than the virus itself. We must now think first and foremost of the interests of our children. In addition to medical risk assessment, knowledge and understanding of the human, social, health, and economic costs of a growing physical impairment needs to be found.
The costs of immobility for children and young people are significant. This is not a trivial matter, as the cost of immobility to society is around EUR 3.2-7.5 billion a year, which is much more than the costs of tobacco and alcohol, for example. This inevitably raises the question of whether the social benefits of closing down children's leisure activities outweigh the losses caused by closing.
Now, at the latest, we adults should look in the mirror and consider how long we can continue this line. What are the criteria by which we limit the well-being and development of children? Are these extreme measures really necessary in this situation? Have all other possible means already been tried? Personally, I believe that children's hobbies could certainly be organised in such a way that the protection of at-risk groups is not jeopardised.
Ari Koponen is a Finnish politician currently serving in the Parliament of Finland for the Finns Party at the Uusimaa constituency.
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of The Finnish Parliament contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.
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