Can the “Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” Process Enhance Your Leisure?

Last January, I got the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I had joined a closed Facebook group called KonMari Adventures after one of my own Facebook friends had shared several posts of her experience of tidying and recommended the group. After a week of reading the stories that the women were posting – stories of the results they were experiencing from doing the author’s discarding and organizing process, I had to get the book and read more.

I consider myself a fairly organized person and if you came to my house, you would likely not say that it was cluttered. But one of the key goals of the KonMari process (named after the author Marie Kondo) is that create a lifestyle that sparks joy.

life changing magic of tidying up and leisure

I followed the KonMari process by doing my clothes first. I appreciated that the book empowered me to rid myself of clothes that didn’t fit well; those that I had enjoyed at one point, but did not any longer; and those which I had been drawn to and bought, but which actually never suited me. I appreciated these items for what they had given me (part of the process) whether it was joy in the moment when I found and purchased them or the lesson they taught me about my style and clothing preferences.

Realizing the Connection between the KonMari Method and Leisure

After completing the clothing categories, I moved on to books. I re-read what Marie Kondo had written about how to approach the discarding of books. I love books and was dreading the category. She explains that half finished books should be let go – that the time to read them has likely passed. I found this to be a particularly freeing idea. Many times, I have purchased a book or have been given a book that I was excited about, but after getting down to reading it, I have discovered it was not as interesting or engaging as I hoped or expected it to be. When this happened, I ended up denying myself permission to purchase or start a new book until I “finished” the one that I was not interested in. I now realize that while I denied myself the enjoyment of others books, I likely let the critical moment of interest in those other books pass as well. I began to see my half-read books as missed opportunities to experience joy – barriers to more enjoyable reads and maybe the best read of my life. It was during the process of going through my books and reflecting on Marie Kondo’s advice that I began considering how this process could create space for new or enhanced leisure.

This was further reinforced when I got to the paper category. Among the collection of papers that covered my home office floor, were programs and ticket stubs I had kept from various performances I had attended over the years. I realized it was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the types of performances I had most enjoyed and to clarify, for myself, what I wanted to see more of in the future. In this way, the KonMari process was an opportunity for leisure self-awareness.

Clarifying How “Stuff” May Be a Barrier to or Opportunity for Leisure

The next category, the Komono category (miscellaneous things), is a rather large one, but contains subcategories that are arguably related to our leisure like crafts, games, puzzles, CDs/DVDs, and sports equipment. For me, these categories were a bit of a trip back in time to the various points when I enjoyed and engaged in cross stitching, tole painting, scrapbooking, wreath making, card making, and candle making.  None of these hobbies were things I was actually doing in the present nor had a desire to do. Similar to books, I had been telling myself that I should not take up anything new until I used up all the things I had already collected for these various hobbies. I decided this thinking, although perhaps logical in some ways, was a barrier to new leisure pursuits that I would enjoy more in the present. I got rid of all of the supplies for things I knew I was never going to do again. I made room – both physically and psychologically – for new things I wanted to pursue in my available time (like knitting – which I had just learned to do and was excited about working on).

konmari-tidying-up

Craft Supplies – Focusing on what hobbies I want to continue to pursue and making room for new ones

I also donated the collection of jigsaw puzzles I had accumulated over the years as gifts. As I stared at the pile of them, I concluded that I am not someone who does a puzzle more than once. Therefore, once it is done, it has served its purpose for me and it time to let someone else enjoy it. By donating the ones I had, I gave myself permission to be able to select a new puzzle to do if and when one captures my attention (and one may never capture my attention again, which is okay).

Another notable discard was my roller blades. I had acquired these when I lived in a community with lots of paved, flat trails near my apartment and when I had a couple of friends who loved to go often. I had not roller bladed in 15 years. I did not miss it, but often felt guilty that I had the equipment for something that I was not doing. I did not want to keep feeling guilty for the leisure I was not doing or did not have a desire to do. So, bye, bye roller blades. I now had space for my new snowshoes.

In sorting through my games, I rediscovered ones that I knew one of my nieces would enjoy. Sometimes when tidying up and decluttering, you can find things that will facilitate leisure, create memories, and will spark joy – things that had become buried with the stuff that does not.

Concluding Thoughts

Freedom is one of the common, essential characteristics of leisure. Generally, freedom as a characteristic of leisure has been conceptualized as being free from obligation (i.e., work) or constraint as well as being free to choose what to pursue. The KonMari process gave me the chance to reflect on the potential for the “stuff” I had collected and the attitudes I had developed about my stuff (e.g., you cannot be wasteful, you do not get a new book until you finish the one you have) to limit my sense of freedom to choose leisure that would bring the most joy at particular points in my life. I do recognize that you need to be privileged with stuff to have this problem and I also recognize that some individuals have no problem purchasing new things even if they have unfinished projects or books. However, there are many individuals for whom stuff carries a weight and may preclude them from regularly evaluating their leisure interests or what needs they could be meeting through particular leisure pursuits. When there is an opportunity to shed these materials that to not bring enjoyment or weigh us down for whatever reason (e.g., guilt), it may lead to a clearer understanding of may spark joy and what satisfying leisure one might want to pursue as a result.

 

 

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The Digital Age, Social Wellness, and Mental Health on Bell Let’s Talk Day

This year on Bell Let’s Talk Day, I’m in Nanaimo, BC. It’s hard not to reflect on the fact that this beautiful spot in Canada arguably has a winter climate that supports mental health (temperatures above 0 degrees, no snow, and I actually saw some flowers when I was walking by the waterfront on Sunday).

This year, the relationships among social wellness, digital technology, leisure, and mental health are at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been reading Sherry Turkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. As I’ve read what she’s learned from talking to people about digital technology, the implications for our social wellness were troublesome to me and worthy of some consideration.

Social Wellness

Social wellness is the dimension of wellness that focuses on our interactions with others. Having positive, meaningful relationships with others; using good communication in our interactions; having a support network of friends and family; and respecting yourself and others all contribute to our social wellness. Social wellness, in turn, supports our mental health. For example, positive social interactions can help us manage and prevent depression (Cruwys et al., 2013) and the support networks we have and even our perception that we have support can buffer stress (Cohen & Willis, 1985). Our positive relationships with others also contribute to our feelings of self worth, our self-esteem, and our self-confidence.

But how might our social wellness (and therefore, our mental health) be affected by trends in how we communicate and interact?

“I’d Rather Text than Talk”

The popularity of mobile communication devices (MCDs) has offered a way of communicating with others that does not require conversation. Turkle (2015) highlights that there is currently a generation of young people who indicate that they would rather text their friends or email than have a conversation. For perspective on the growth of text messages, Pew Institute survey results revealed that in 2000, 14 billion text messages were sent in the US. In 2010, this number had exploded to 188 billion. While this seems to be a particular trend among young people, Turkle also found that in the workplace, some adults choose to email colleagues rather than walking down the hall and having a conversation. Why? Part of it seems to be that we enjoy having control over what we communicate when we text or email. We can edit and perfect our messages before hitting “send”. In other ways, it is perceived as more efficient or convenient – it is quicker to send a text or an email than it is to engage in a longer interaction than we wanted or needed (again, it is about control).

But what is lost when we opt for texting over talking or emailing over conversation? The biggest concern seems to around the impact on the digital natives – those who have grown up with technology and MCDs. Developmental psychologists express concern that this form of communication is likely to most greatly impact young people (e.g., tweens and teens) because they have not yet fully developed their interpersonal skills. Turkle (2015) argues that conversations provide opportunities to think, reason and self-reflect – skills she says are the bedrock of social development. Without conversation, the opportunity to develop empathy, interpret nonverbal cues (facial expression, body language) and understand emotional subtleties may also be lost. For example, Turkle talks about the difference between saying “I’m sorry” via text and apologizing in person when you might see, through nonverbal cues, the pain and discomfort you have caused another person. It is this kind of face-to-face experience with the “messiness” of human relationships that leads to better relationships and social wellness.

I should note that while Turkle (2015) argues that the little bits and pieces of text messages do not add up to a conversation, others argue that the increased contact that occurs through text messaging could be helpful to friendship development (Hartley-Brewer, 2009). Personally, I need to see more evidence that quantity of interaction trumps quality of interaction in terms of social wellness and associated outcomes.

Having Lunch or Coffee – The Phone on the Table

In Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle (2015) discusses what she learned through her research about how phones can influence our social interactions. “Studies show the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about. If we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence. And conversations with phones on the landscape block empathic connection. If two people are speaking and there is a phone on a nearby desk, each feels less connected to the other than when there is no phone present. Even a silent phone disconnects us” (p. 21). One of her participants explained that if, during a conversation, someone picks up his/her phone, it is a sign that the conversation is getting too serious or heavy and that it needs to be lightened up. I cannot help but wonder how this impacts one’s perception of support or one’s ability to access support. If the possibility of interruption is ever present, are we as likely to enter into conversations in which we are vulnerable – conversations which can result in two people have a better understanding of each other and a closer, deeper relationship? Or, do we keep the conversation on a more superficial level? If conversations occur only on a superficial level, do we access the same positive outcomes of social interaction as we do when we have those conversations in which people are sharing themselves – their fears, their disappointments, or their hopes and plans. How do we ask for support from people in our network during a difficult time (an action related to social wellness), if we cannot have a deeper conversation about what is going on with us and what we need?

rather text than talk

Certainly, superficial conversations can happen anywhere at anytime, but the idea that an object on the landscape (as Turkle refers to it) could block opportunities for more meaningful conversations and the deepening of relationships is something we might want to pay attention to. Arguably, this practice could impact our social wellness.

I wonder how important and desirable group gatherings in which the norm is for the phone to stay in your bag or pocket might become. Might those leisure experiences in which this is the norm offer the best opportunity for having the social interactions that support our mental health? Should we be seeking out yarn parties, sporting activities, or a book club – gatherings where the focus is on engaging in something together and where conversation is a natural part of the interaction if we want to develop those close social ties or deepen the ones we have? Or, is it unrealistic to think that there are any sacred spaces in which the conversation will not be interrupted by someone not present?

knitting party

Expectations and Stresses of Modern Friendship Lived Online

For young people in particular, the trend or practice seems to be that when they are together, they are inattentive (e.g., on their phones…together, but not really together). However, when they are apart, Turkle describes them as hyper vigilent. Some of the young people she talked to as part of her research expressed feeling stressed when they must go long periods without their phone. This was in part because there is an expectation that if a friend sends a text, you will respond within a few minutes. Missing out or being left out of something is a big deal for teenagers in particular. Even at night, young people expressed worrying about this and many indicated sleeping with their phones right beside them or in their beds so that they would know if a text came in.

With these expectations and the stresses that seem to accompany them, I wonder how  “present” youth can be in their activities that separate them from their phones and their online social lives. As someone who studies leisure, I have concerns about how these expectations affect someone’s enjoyment of or engagement in what they are participating in at the time. Leisure offers excellent opportunities to meet people with shared interests and to develop friendships. But does the concern about what is happening online affect one’s ability to develop and enjoy meaningful face-to-face relationships when the opportunities exist?

The CNN Documentary #Being13 that was aired in October of 2015 demonstrated this fear of missing out when teens in that study estimated checking their phones up to 200 times during the school day. They appeared to be anxious – worried that they might be left out of something. They might see a photo of some of their friends hanging out without them or at a party they were not invited to. One teen explained that she was only as good as her latest selfie and status post on Instagram. Apparently, popularity and belonging fluctuated based on these factors. This documentary left me with the impression that social wellness, for these youth, was very unstable. Friends who intentionally exclude you from a party and post photos they know you will see – that doesn’t seem like a healthy peer relationship. Or, feeling left out and hurt because you see two of your friends hanging out without you – that suggests youth may be quite vulnerable as social lives are lived online.

Social wellness occurs when relationships are positive and healthy – you feel good about the relationships you are in. It occurs when you have a support network – people you know you can count on to help you when you need them. It seems that as social lives are lived as much online as they are face-to-face, developing social wellness may be more complex and challenging to achieve. And if social wellness is low or unstable, it will have an impact on mental health.

Because of the important links between social wellness and mental health, I think it will become increasingly important to be aware of our digital interactions, the role that our devices play in our relationships, and how they may interfere with us achieving and maintaining a high degree of social wellness.

References:

Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 310–357.

Cruwys, T., Dingle, G. A., Haslam, C., Haslam, S. A., Jetten, J., & Morton, T. A. (2013). Social group memberships protect against future depression, alleviate depression symptoms and prevent depression relapse. Social Science & Medicine, 98, 179-186.

Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming conversation: The power of talk in the digital age. New York: Penguin Press.

Can a Word for the Year Facilitate Leisure?

I’ve been following a UK blogger, Susannah Conway, for the last couple of years. I have enjoyed receiving her “Something for the Weekend” posts which always offered lots of links for interesting reading. There was always something in the list that made me smile or left me inspired. In December of 2014, I noticed a post toward the end of the year focused on Finding Your Word for 2015. Having just moved in the middle of the academic term and facing a chunk of grading in December and anticipating that I’d start the January term behind, I quickly thought my word for 2015 would be “survive.” I did not take the time to go through the process of choosing a word and maybe if I had, my 2015 would have gone a bit differently. In any case, this occasion was the first I was aware of this notion of a word for the year.

This December, with my six-month sabbatical approaching and after having a semi-difficult year with my depression and anxiety, I chose to take the time to go through the Find Your Word process of choosing a word. I signed up for the free five day mini-course and I joined the Facebook group. Each day for five days, I received an email to guide me through the process of finding my word. I also had a chance to read posts from others who had chosen their word or were seeking help in choosing the perfect word to describe their intentions for 2016.

What has been fascinating to me is reading the stories behind the word choice of the members of the Facebook group. The posts come almost exclusively from women and the chosen words – even the same word for different women – are steeped in meaning. There are words like embrace, act, invest, faith, forgive, move, presence, enough, adventure, and create – each come with an explanation for the choice and a vision for its meaning in 2016. Many of the discussion around chosen words is about how time will be used. For some women, the word they have chosen, in part, serves as a reminder to enjoy hobbies or pursuits, try new ones, spend with friends and make new ones, do things that bring feelings of joy, and engage in activities that promote self-care.

After going through the process, my word became clear. Nourish.

Word for 2016 Nourish

The Find Your Word process helped me to settle on my word for 2016

I was looking for a word that would capture my desire to stimulate my mind outside of work-related activities – that will encourage me to choose, for example, leisure reading over television; that will encourage me to engage my mind in ways that will bring joy, satisfy my curiosities, and peak my interests (as opposed to simply distracting or numbing my mind). In 2015, I made some good progress in making changes to my eating habits and devoted more attention to working out and taking time to be outside – I needed a word for 2016 that would encourage me to continue those actions and would be a good mantra on days when a bag of chips seems like a good idea for lunch. This summer, I want to do more gardening – I want to pay more attention to helping things grow and needed a word that reflected this intention. I wanted a word that would capture my desire to focus on building and deepening particular relationships. Finally, I wanted a word that would capture all these intentions in a positive way and would not leave me feeling as though paying attention to these things was drudgery (e.g., I “have to” exercise; I “should” eat something healthy for supper). Because the word “nourish” seemed to so simply reflects my intention, the “should” and “have to” words do not feel necessary. Saying “nourish” seems like a gentle reminder of what I’m hoping to do on a daily basis.

My word is certainly not entirely focused on leisure, but “nourish” and the intentions linked to the word does force reflection upon how I am using my unobligated time or leisure time. Already, only three days in to 2016, I find myself asking about my choices in my leisure time: how will this action “nourish” my mind, my body, my spirit, my relationships? I don’t expect that ever single thing I do in 2016 will qualify as nourishing, but I do see that selecting a word for the year that has connections with leisure intentions could facilitate more leisure time, new leisure pursuits, leisure choices that better one’s needs, and more satisfying leisure in general. I am interested to see if a word can shift my attitude about or the meaning I attach to certain activities that may not always feel like leisure. Only time will tell whether the mantra of “nourish” will convert meal preparation from something I do not particularly enjoy and see as a chore to something I see as an enjoyable act of self-care.

Some women in the Facebook group have shared that they will be doing art journals for their word, creating experiences that reflect their word, and even taking photographs throughout the year that capture their engagement in actions that reflect their word’s meaning. It seems that particular leisure skills could come in very handy in supporting their efforts related to self-awareness, self-development, and/or intentional living in 2016.

If you use a word to guide your actions for the year or to represent your intentions, are there ways in which the meaning of the word represents your intentions related to your leisure?

Print Books or E-Books: Understanding Leisure Reading Preferences

This past weekend, my husband’s family held the annual “Christmas in November” celebration before his parents head south to avoid the often less-than-pleasant Canadian winter. We draw names and share our “wish list” with the family member who has our name. I always have books and magazines on my list and am always so thrilled when I receive those items. I instantly start flipping through the pages and my heart fills with joy. This weekend, during this moment of joy, I noticed myself thinking, “I hope there are always print copies of books”. Reading is one of the leisure activities I greatly enjoy and I’m learning that I prefer to read print copies of my leisure reading materials. What about you? Are you someone who prefers a hard copy book or magazine or do you prefer the digital versions?

e-reader versus book

Innovation in the Formats of Reading Material

My effort to understand my own attraction to print books, I began with reading about what researchers have called the “innovation” in reading.

In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen various innovations that have allowed us to access reading materials in different ways. In the early 1980s, my parents made the decision to get an encyclopedia set which was a tremendous investment at the time. By the late 1990s, I was seeing digital versions of encyclopedias in the reference section of book stores meaning you could access large volumes of information by putting discs in your computer. Definitely a welcomed innovation as far as I was concerned. Easier to find information. Easier to store. Much less expensive. I was in favour.

As an academic, I have gone from spending time and money photocopying journal articles or book chapters to being able to save downloaded PDF copies of the material I need to my personal computer. I could probably get rid of one of my filing cabinet which was originally intended to hold all these resources I would need to access and refer to. Paper, time, money, and space have all been saved as a result of the digital access to scholarly articles and books. Again, I have been in favour of the innovation and the resulting outcomes.

In the realm of leisure reading, we’ve seen the development and improvement of e-readers. In Canada, the Kindle (Amazon) and the Kobo (Indigo) have been the most popular e-readers and there have been a few “generations” of these devices each with improved and added features designed to enhance the reading experience. Apps on tablets (e.g., iPad) also allow us to read books purchased or borrowed from the library. Amazon has reported that Kindle users buy three times more books than they did before they had owned the Kindle (PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2010) and the rapidly growing e-book market (Indvik, 2010) is expected to see demand for e-books continue to stay strong. Even magazines have become available through tablet apps. A year ago, I subscribed to Next Issue which offers me access, on my iPad, to over 150 magazines – about 10 which I would, on rotation, “treat” myself to each month – for $9.99/month plus tax.

Advantages of Digital Format of Leisure Reading Material

I understand there are some obvious advantages of the digital options for books and magazines. Cost is certainly one – I would never spend the money for 10 of my favourite magazines each month let alone the 150+ that I can access monthly through Next Issue for the cost equivalent of two magazines a month. For those who have storage or clutter issues (e.g., lack of bookshelf space; small living quarters) or subscribe to a minimalist lifestyle, there are clear advantages to books being stored on a tablet or e-reader. For those, like my husband, who have vision problems, e-readers offer options for larger print and contrast options such as reading white type on black background. As Joe Queenan pointed out in his Wall Street Journal piece, if you don’t want others to know what book you’re reading (e.g., Fifty Shades of Grey or a self-help book), e-readers may allow you the privacy you’re looking for. Travellers can take multiple books or magazines on vacation without weighing down their suitcase (Hupfeld, Sellen, O’Hara, & Rodden, 2013). In some cases, e-books and digital magazine issues offer readers a more interactive format and supplementary materials (e.g., magazines with links to “how to” videos or books with links to a dictionary; Richardson & Mahmood, 2012). E-books and digital magazines also offer convenient and immediate access – no need to travel to a bookstore or wait for your book to arrive in the mail (Culén & Gasparini, 2011).

For these reasons, many people view e-books as a better modality for reading and have adopted e-readers as their primary or sole format for reading books and magazines. However, as Josh Catone states in his article, “Why Printed Books Will Never Die”, “e-books are not simply a better format replacing an inferior one; they offer a wholly different experience”.

The Attraction to Print Books

Despite my initial excitement about the advantages of e-books and digital magazine such as the lower cost and less “stuff” in the house, I still find myself longing for print forms of my leisure reading material. This realization made me curious to understand why this might be and to hunt down some of the existing research on reading books versus e-readers when reading is a leisure experience.

Print books as offering a multi-sensory experience. It is likely that I’m drawn to buy and keep print books because I like the physical object of a book. Research has shown that people who prefer books like the feel of books, the smell of books especially those from the library or used book store, and the look of book cover and/or spin (Culén & Gasparini, 2011). I would say that I’m primarily drawn to the content of books, especially in the case of non-fiction, and I do recognize the same content can be accessed through an e-book. However, I often find myself drawn to the cover of a book – to its beauty or the feeling it evokes when I look at it. In those cases, being able to put it on my shelf and look at it whenever I wish becomes important. In fact, I put favorite books on a shelf that I walk by multiple times a day – simply because I enjoy the look of the spines of the books.

Permanence. The permanence of a physical book is another reason that people seem to choose print over e-books (Catone, 2011; Hupfield et al., 2013; Lynch, 2001). With technology changing so rapidly, some have concerns about long-term compatibility. I can relate to this. I’m regularly frustrated by how technological advancements contributes to obsolescence and waste. While on vacation this summer, I lost my 4th generation iPod Nano and I eventually decided to purchase a new one. I discovered that the new (7th generation) wasn’t compatible with my Sony radio/disc/iPod player and the recommended adapter was reviewed as not working well with the new iPods, and in some cases, had ruined users’ new iPod Nano. My player was only 5 years old and worked perfectly well, but was essentially obsolete in terms of playing music on new generations of iPods . Ugh! While I enjoyed the features of my new iPod, I was happy when my old one turned up and I had the opportunity to fully use my player again. I worry about the same happening with books. Perhaps I lack trust in the innovators to maintain compatibility and to ensure that my e-books will be forever accessible.

Sharing/gifting books and magazines. One year for Christmas, I gave my sister a collection of specialty magazines I had bought over the years. Although some of the magazines were 5 years old, she appreciated and enjoyed the collection. I have also enjoyed buying books for her over the years – print and e-books. I will admit that buying an e-book as a gift for someone feels less satisfying somehow. Perhaps this is more about my gift giving practices – liking to look at the book, flip through the pages, and wrap the gift. I like thinking that the my sister has a physical object and that when she looks at it, will know I was thinking about her and her love of reading. The book is a symbol of knowing her and of loving her. Gifting physical books and magazines feels more personal, but I also feel as though I’m giving something that has more value (Richardson & Mahmood, 2012). From a practical perspective (e.g., storage), my sister may prefer that I gift e-books rather than contribute to a growing household book collection.

Expressions of identity and interests. When I visit someone who has shelves of cookbooks or travel books or mystery novels or has a biographies or books on gardening on their coffee table – I quickly learn something about that person. Arguably the books we keep and display communicate something about us – to others and to ourselves (e.g., reminders of aspects of our identity or our values). When we read in public places the same can occur. If we are reading a book on the bus or in a coffee shop and someone notices and shares an interest or love for the author’s books, it presents an opportunity to connect and interact. While e-readers offer the advantage of privacy, the disadvantage may be a missed opportunity to engage others in a social interaction related to what is being read. Perhaps as the technology of e-readers develops, there will be opportunity for those reading on devices to communicate to those near them what books or magazines they are reading.

Nostalgia. Catone (2011) talks about the nostalgia that is associated with books. This makes sense to me. For example, I imagine that for some there is a different experience when reading a Bible at church on an e-reader versus taking the Bible that has been passed down through the family or was given at a Baptism or Christening. I find myself experiencing disappointment when I see books that I used to read as a child with new, updated covers. I’m currently giving my 7 year-old niece books from the Judy Blume series. When I first looked at the new Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, my heart sank a bit. The cover was nothing like my copy. While the content was the same, it didn’t produce the same feeling of nostalgia as the Little Bear books do when I look at them. They have maintained their same covers over the years and I have had that experience of nostalgia when buying them for my nieces. When I first caught a glimpse of the cover of the latest print version of  Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing, I wished that I had kept my Judy Blume books to pass on to my niece. But as Catone points out, nostalgia is generational and print books may not produce the same nostalgia for today’s youth as it might for those who are over 40 or or 60.

As covers of books change, does this impact the "nostalgia factor" associated with physical books?

As covers of books change, does this impact the “nostalgia factor” associated with physical books?

Lessen screen time. And perhaps my affinity for a physical book is my perception that by choosing a physical book, I am choosing to have a non-screen leisure experience. While the improved contrast features of e-readers means I could read a book from an e-reader while enjoying the sunshine on my deck, as someone who spends 8 hours a day working in reading from a screen, I feel the need to move away from it during my non-work hours. I enjoy the shift to reading a physical book or magazine – both the physical shift away from the computer and the mental shift from work reading to leisure reading.

Conclusion

Based on the research, it seems that in the work environment and for knowledge workers in particular, there is a great appreciated for the digitization of print media and the opportunity to read material through various modalities. When it comes to other forms of reading such as leisure reading, there are also significant advantages of e-readers and users seem to weigh these advantages in the context of their own lives against both the disadvantages of e-readers and the advantages or perceived value of physical books.

References

Cantone, J. (2011). “Why Printed Books Will Never Die”. Available at: http://mashable.com/2013/01/16/e-books-vs-print/#PBqnxWFs1PqS

Culén, A. L., & Gasparini, A. (2011). E-book Reader and the Necessity of Divergence from the Legacy of Paper Book. In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Advances in Computer Human Interaction (pp. 267-273).

Hupfeld, A., Sellen, A., O’Hara, K., & Rodden, T. (2013). Leisure-based Reading and the Place of E-books in Everyday Life. In Human-Computer Interaction–INTERACT 2013 (pp. 1-18). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Indvik, L. (2010). “E-book Sales Up 193% So Far This Year”. Available at: http://mashable.com/2010/10/15/e-book-sales-august-2010/

Lynch, C. (2001, June 4). “The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World.” First Monday, 6(6), Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/5fxx6

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (2010).Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2010–2014.. Available at: http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/global-entertainment-media-outlook

Queenan, J. (2012, October 22). My 6,128 favorite books. Wall Street Journal. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444868204578064483923017090.

Richardson Jr, J. V., & Mahmood, K. (2012). eBook readers: user satisfaction and usability issues. Library Hi Tech, 30(1), 170-185.

Criminalizing Childhood Independence Can Increase Barriers to Children’s Leisure and Recreation

This week in my Youth Development through Recreation and Sport course, we’ve been talking about the role of parents in children’s development. The discussion reminded me of a news story that was initially reported on in January 2015 in which parents were investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) for allowing their 10 year-old and six-year old to walk home alone (about 1 mile) from a local park. At the time the story broke, it was the third news story in less than a year that involved parents encountering trouble with the law for their children walking to or from local parks/playgrounds alone or playing in parks/playgrounds without a parent being present. These stories are originating in the United States, but they get press in Canada and Canadian parents’ reactions to the story have been varied. There are those who agree that children should be constantly supervised, those who describe themselves as “free range parents” who allow their children to explore and experience the world without constantly monitoring them, and those who would argue their beliefs and approach to their children’s freedom fits somewhere in between.

childhood independence

These types of stories surprised me. Part of my surprise that a parent is accused of neglect in a situation where his/her child is walking home from a park could be related to the freedom I had as a child. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I was allowed to bike around my neighbour and to friends’ houses by myself or with my younger sister, to walk or bike to the convenience store in my neighbourhood to get a treat with my allowance, and to go to my elementary school playground and play with my sister or friends. That freedom came with opportunities to assess and take risks, to make decisions, to explore, to problem solve, and to actually have adventures to share with my family when asked, “What did you do at the playground today?” No one interpreted my sister and I playing at the playground by ourselves as my parents being neglectful. Doing these things was considered as “normal”.

News stories like the recent one about the Meitiv family who had their children, age 10 and 6, picked up and delivered home in a police cruiser midway through their 1-mile walk home from the park indicate – as Petula Dvorak, columnist with the The Washington Post suggests – that there has been a cultural shift in criminalizing childhood independence. This shift, I believe, comes with a significant consequence to children’s leisure and recreation behaviours.

Increasing Barriers to Children’s Play, Leisure, and Recreation

Some children face a number of barriers to accessing recreation and leisure pursuits. They may be limited to activities or experiences in which their parent(s) can afford to financially support or by their parents’ ability to transport them to facilities for programs. Some parents have irregular work schedules or travel frequently and can’t consistently support children’s regular participation in organized programs. What happens when children are also limited from using recreation resources in their neighbourhoods or communities unless they are supervised at all times? Will stories of parents being scrutinized for allowing their children to walk or bike to parks or playgrounds in their area contribute to parents feeling increasingly uncomfortable with allowing or encouraging children to play independently?

Before the story was over for the Meitiv family, they were found responsible, in March 2015, for “unsubstantiated” child neglect meaning CPS would keep a file on the children for five years. Then, in April 2015, their children were picked up a second time from a local park. A happy ending of sorts came in June 2015, when they were cleared of all neglect charges and CPS revised its policy. Children will not be considered neglected without evidence that while unsupervised, the child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of being harmed.

Reconciling the Mixed Messages

I wonder how we, as a society, can expect to have success with efforts such as active transportation (e.g., kids walking or biking to school) if we also communicate that it is not appropriate for children to walk that same neighbourhood on their own to the park or playground or local pool.

ParticipACTION produced a commercial that prompted parents to “Bring Back Play”. This ad was targeted at parents who are of the generation in which being out playing and being active was common. But can we really bring back play… play as it was? Is the campaign tag line something parents living within the current culture of parental anxiety and fear about children’s safety can even relate to (O’Connor & Brown, 2013). Perhaps first, we need campaigns that emphasize how safe neighbourhoods are or campaigns that encourage people to get to know their neighbours so that people can feel more comfortable letting their children move autonomously on the streets near home.

The latest ParticipACTION commercial series communicates that screen time limits play time or opportunity and that we (parents/children/other influential adults) need to “make room for play”. The images are, for example, of children playing hockey in an empty parking lot (see video below) or basketball in park court or skipping rope outside. In none of these videos are children being supervised by parents. How might this fit with parents’ own anxiety about leaving children unsupervised or their concerns about how they might be perceived by others if they were to send their child to the part unsupervised. Is the message that it is okay for children to play in the neighbourhood as long as they are in a group?

ParticipACTION Make Room for Play Video

If We Criminalize Childhood Independence…

… then I wonder why we are not criminalizing childhood physical inactivity and screen time. I’m not suggesting any aspect of childhood leisure, recreation, or play should be criminalized. However, if we are going to label parents as neglectful if they facilitate opportunities for their children to develop independence and autonomy, it does not make sense that we would ignore other potential “dangerous” childhood behaviours. For example, while currently working on a revision to its recommendations, the American Pediatric Association has previously discouraged screen use for children younger than 2 years of age. Several studies have produced evidence that screen-time, especially passive television time, can be harmful for children under two. Television tends to have negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, short-term memory, sleep, and attention/concentration (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). Children’s declining levels of physical activity are linked with increasing levels of childhood obesity (Healthy Active Living for Children and Youth, 2002) and we are bombarded with messages about the negative consequences of childhood obesity in terms of the short- and long-term health of children (e.g., sleep disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol). However, we don’t see stories about parents being considered as neglectful if they allow their child to watch tv for 8 hours on a Saturday or play on tablets all day. Yet, one could argue, that those parenting decisions could be just as harmful or perhaps more harmful than allowing a children to play in a nearby park and walk home afterward.

The Meitivs seem to be making thoughtful parenting decisions that foster independence and  contribute positively to their children’s development. And, the only risk of walking home from the park – as identified by the police at least – was that the children could be abducted by a stranger. Yet, the odds of that are pretty slim according to statistics Dvorak presents in her Post piece. Fear mongering, in my opinion, does little to support parents in facilitating children’s independence in their leisure time nor does it support parents in helping their children acquire the various assets that are associated with positive youth development and thriving.

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Policy statement: Children, adolescents, and the media. Pediatrics, 132(5), 958-961.

Healthy active living for children and youth (2002). Paediatrics & Child Health, 7(5), 339-358.

O’Connor, J., & Brown, A. (2013). A qualitative study of ‘fear’ as a regulator of children’s independent physical activity in the suburbs. Health & Place, 24, 157-164.

Leisure’s Role in Mental Health: #BellLetsTalk Day

January 28th is a day in Canada that is annually dedicated to ending the stigma associated with mental health problems and illnesses. Last year, I wrote a post about depression and the role that leisure can play in preventing and managing it. Today, I wanted to take the opportunity on Bell Let’s Talk Day 2015 to continue highlighting the importance of leisure and recreation in mental health using two interesting pieces of literature that have emerged in the last year that link leisure and mental health.

bell-lets-talk-did-you-know-3

Leisure and Subjective Well-Being

Contained within the body of existing leisure research is the notion that leisure enhances  subjective well-being (Newman, Tay, & Diener, 2014). Subjective well-being is comprised of a high level of positive affect/emotion, low level of negative affect/emotion, and a high degree of life satisfaction. Kecmanović (2010) has argued that although not necessarily “the” measure of mental health, subjective well-being is an important measure of mental health. Leisure and mental health, therefore, can be linked through leisure’s contribution to subjective well-being. According to Newman et al., (2014) leisure can enhance or support subjective well-being through offering opportunities: 1) to detach from work and other life pressures to relax and recover; 2) to choose what you wish to do and experience autonomy 3) to overcome challenge and improve skills resulting in a sense of mastery; 4) to make meaning; and 5) to meet affiliation or social needs. The authors further emphasize that some leisure pursuits could fulfill more psychological needs and enhance subjective well-being more greatly then others. For example, talking a yoga class at lunch may allow for detachment and relaxation, affiliation, autonomy, and mastery while live streaming a tv show on your computer at lunch may only allow for detachment and relaxation. While the relationship of why and how leisure influences subjective well-being is not completely understood (Newman et al., 2014), the body of research evidence is clear that leisure can have an influence and should be considered as something that contributes to one’s overall mental health.

The Role of Leisure in Recovery from Mental Illness

A recent study by Iwasaki and colleagues (2014) examined a culturally diverse sample of 101 individuals with mental illness with a range of diagnoses being represented including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and panic disorder. Researchers were focused on understanding the role that leisure in recovery because leisure was an aspect of recovery that has not been extensively studied and therefore may be an undervalued component of recovery. Researchers found links between a number of leisure concepts and recovery.

First, leisure boredom was negatively associated with recovery. Individuals with mental illness may struggle to use their leisure constructively and this may have a negative effect on recovery.

Second, having favorite leisure activities that were meaningful (e.g., allowed for self expression, provided a sense of peace; promoted sense of belonging) significantly predicted recovery. Helping individuals with mental illness to identify meaningful personal and social activities that are enjoyable and pleasurable may, therefore, be important in facilitating recovery. Helping individuals to locate enjoyable activities of interest could also work toward lessening boredom and it’s potential negative effects on recovery.

Third, leisure as a means for coping with stress predicted lower psychiatric symptoms. Therefore, using leisure, for example, to gain feelings of personal control or help manage negative feelings was evaluated as predicting recovery. Educating individuals with mental illness about leisure’s potential for outcomes that contribute to stress coping may be important in facilitating recovery.

Finally, perceiving oneself as activity engaging (have place to go, people to see, things to do) in various domains of life including personal, family, social, community, and culture domains, significantly predicted recovery. Perceiving oneself as activity engaged was also positively correlated with leisure coping and meaning being generated through leisure, and was negatively correlated with leisure boredom. In this way, having places to go, people to see, and things to do may offer opportunities for individuals with mental illness to experience meaning through leisure, use leisure to cope, lessen boredom and further predict their recovery. Working with individuals within communities to ensure they are connected, feel a sense of belonging, and are engaged may be important to recovery from mental illness.

Don’t Forget About Leisure

bellletstalk leisure and health

Unfortunately, only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who had a mental illness. Yet, affiliation and connection are exactly what individuals with mental illnesses need to support their recovery and contribute to their subjective well-being. Consider the research. Consider the role of leisure. Consider what your role might be in facilitating leisure for an individual with mental health problems or illnesses. Help to end the stigma.

References:

Iwasaki, Y., Coyle, C. , Shank, J., Messina, E., Porter, H. et al., (2014) Role of leisure in
recovery from mental illness, American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 17(2),
147-165.

Kecmanović, D. (2010). Is subjective well-being a measure or the measure of mental health?. Acta Medica Academica, 39(1), 62-70.

Newman, D. B., Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2014). Leisure and subjective well-being: A model of psychological mechanisms as mediating factors. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(3), 555-578.

 

 

From Play Structures to iPads: What’s Happening to Children’s Play Spaces?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a news story about a transformed play space at the Guildford Town Centre (a mall) in Surrey, British Columbia. The mall play space went from being a place where kids could run around, climb, and go down a slide, to a place where children can engage in interactive play with…iPads. Parents are not happy, and I don’t blame them. As someone concerned with youth physical activity levels as well as positive youth development, I share some of the same concerns parents do.

iPads for interactive play area

New indoor “interactive play park” at Guildford Town Centre

Mall Response

“More active play and can result in children being hurt”: The mall response was that in their experience providing slides and things for climbing leads to much more active play and, apparently, children being hurt. It seems that the mall is just another example of how risk is being systematically eliminated from children’s play areas. Adults seem so concerned for children’s safety that they feel almost compelled to eliminate any potential sources of danger. Playgrounds are disappearing or are behaviours within them are strictly regulated. Last year, a story surfaced about a New York middle that school banned hard balls like soccer and footballs during recess and would not allow tag to be played without adult supervision citing these activities as dangerous. Other schools are taking out swings or banning games of tag – also perceiving these as potentially dangerous activities. It seems adult fear and anxiety about child safety (and perhaps insurance company’s concerns over liability) is changing the nature of the experience of childhood… in neighbourhoods, on playgrounds, and now, it seems, at the mall play space.

“We’re pleased to offer a quiet play environment for children”: There are lots of times and places where children are expected to be “quiet” – libraries, nap time at day care, waiting rooms at the doctors offices, during the school day, while a younger sibling is sleeping, and while adults are having a conversation and have asked not to be interrupted. Play areas and playgrounds are normally designed to allow children to let of steam and to have fun – to shriek with joy and to laugh and yell, “Hey Mom/Dad… look at me”. This would be especially true, I would think, when toddlers and younger children are out at the mall with a parent. In stores, children are told to not touch and to keep their voices down (or at least this is often what I see and overhear). Some children are in carts or strollers – somewhat confined while their parents try to complete their errands without having to worry that their child will wander away if something catches their eye. The play area is a place parents can take their child to offer him/her a break from parental errands and the restrictions of a stroller or cart. So, personally, I do not see the value or even the logic of offering “a quiet play environment”. If parents want a quiet play environment for their child, I’m sure they’d head to the library or home, but not to the mall. I can imagine that for some children, the mall is a very stimulating place and perhaps there is a need for a quiet space or quiet time after being there, but in reading articles and seeing news clips of parents’ reaction – a “quiet environment” does not seem to be what parents or children need or want.

What Bothers Me Most About the iPad Play Area

Already too much screen time: The youngest generation of youth – digital natives as they are sometimes called – already spend a significant portion of their time in front of a screen consuming media. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average amount of screen time for kids is seven hours per day. The Academy recommends that children under the age of 2 consume NO television or entertainment media because children’s brains develop best by interacting with people, not screens. Why would we want to replicate an experience children could have at home in a public play space? In a society where we are regularly getting failing grades on children’s physical activity levels (Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2012; 2014), why would we want to turn an active play space into a screen-dependent one?

The importance of learning to manage risk: The spread of technology and the fact that it is being designed to engage children from infancy has changed the landscape of childhood has contributed to children spending less time exploring their worlds. Add to that, parents’ anxiety about stranger danger and injuries (Brockman, Jago, & Fox, 2011; Gill, 2007), which is in part a result of messages parents receive in the media and even from public health agencies (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012a; 2012b) about safety during play, the current generation of children are not given the chance to take risks. Canadian researchers who recently completed a study on children’s play (Alexander, Frohlick, & Fusco, 2014) argue that risk taking is an integral part of children’s play preferences and supports their development. Through risk taking, children get to challenge their abilities and move forward in their development; they explore limits; and they and learn to manage risks and deal with uncertainty – all of which are important for their development into adults who can function in a world that has risks.

Will Change Come?

Alas, despite parents expressing outrage about the Guildford Mall play space – arguing that the play area is not fun for their child, arguing that this doesn’t support the idea that parents are supposed to be helping their children to be more active, and arguing that the installed iPads offer nothing unique from an experience they could offer at home – the mall stands by its decision. Perhaps it is too much to expect that a commercial organization (concerned mainly with making money) might seek to offer something that supported children in moving their bodies and interacting with other children. However, for those consumers who are parents and to whom the play area is important… this decision could hurt the traffic at the mall and retailers bottom line.

References and Further Reading:

Active Healthy Kids Canada. (2012). Is active play extinct? Report card on physical activity for children and youth. Toronto, ON, Canada: Author.

Active Healthy Kids Canada. (2014). Is Canada in the running? Report card on physical activity for children and youth. Toronto, ON, Canada: Author.

Alexander, S. A., Frohlich, K. L., & Fusco, C. (2014 – online first). Problematizing “play-for-health” discourses through children’s photo-elicited narratives. Qualitative Health Research, doi: 1049732314546753.

Brockman, R., Fox, K. R., & Jago, R. (2011). What is the meaning and nature of active play for today’s children in the UK? International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8(15), 1–7.

Future Foundation. (2006). The changing face of parenting: Professional parenting, information and healthcare. London: Future Foundation.

Gill, T. (2007). No fear: Growing up in a risk averse society. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2012a). Funding to prevent injuries in outdoor play spaces: Fact sheet.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2012b). The Government of Canada supports safe outdoor play spaces.

Rosen, H. (2014, March 19). The overprotected kid. The Atlantic.

 

 

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