Play, Health, and Well-Being Essay
Well-being represents one of the central concepts in contemporary policy and social thinking. With the growing pressure to enhance the quality and efficacy of pedagogical strategies, well-being has become a potent driver of policymaking, as well as the target the developed society seeks to meet. An impression persists that the developed world is willing to go unbelievable lengths to ameliorate the issue of poor wellbeing among children and youth. The task becomes particularly precarious, given the magnitude of the structural, socioeconomic, individual and interpersonal challenges facing present-day youth. The need to enhance and sustain well-being in children and adolescents informs all major social policy objectives and decisions. However, before education professionals and policymakers are ready to embrace wellbeing, its concept will have to be established and clarified. Moreover, specialists will need to increase their awareness of how play, diet and lifestyle changes come together to shape a new vision of positive wellbeing in the United Kingdom.
Well-Being: Perspectives, Discourses, Concepts, and Theories
The link between play, health, and well-being is particularly complicated. Yet, its meaning cannot be clarified without considering the existing conceptualisations of well-being and the ways, in which children perceive it. Wright and McLeod point to the difficulties encountered by education professionals and policymakers in terms of defining well-being: despite the rich efforts to enhance child and adolescent wellbeing, its concept remains particularly ambiguous across various discourses. The biggest controversies arise, once education scholars and policymakers decide to move beyond the commonsense understanding of well-being. This is why Wright and McLeod compare well-being with a cultural mirage: “it looks like a solid construct, but when we approach it, it fragments or disappears.” Only a brief analysis of the most popular well-being theories and perspectives will shape the ground for evaluating the link between health, play, and well-being in children and adolescents.
Several major theories and perspectives influenced the wellbeing discourse in the U.K. One of the most prominent ones is the global perspective developed by Martha Nussbaum, according to which wellbeing is a complex set of individual capabilities that are interdependent and crucial for empowering one’s healthy social functioning.3 Nussbaum’s theory treats well-being as a dynamic concept rather than a static state of being.4 Doyal and Gough propose a conceptualisation of well-being that is more specific compared with that by Nussbaum. In their opinion, the concept of well-being encompasses the elements of physical health and personal autonomy.5 Nevertheless, they return to the meaning of social choice, implying that well-being is essentially about one’s ability to set goals and develop physical and emotional capacities to fulfil these goals.6 Regardless of what definition is used, the complexity of the well-being philosophy and its profound implications for the lives of children can hardly be ignored.
Generally, wellbeing crosses the boundaries of physical and mental health. It incorporates the elements of individual capacity, goal-setting, resilience, and social choice. Public Health England offers probably the most comprehensive perspective on well-being. It is defined as a dynamic state of being that enables the individual to be creative, productive, and realize his (her) potentials by developing and maintaining positive community relationships.7 In the U.K., the theoretical and practical work to define and measure the concept of well-being continues.8 Unfortunately, well-being is frequently considered from the perspective of adults, thus ignoring the unique characteristics of children and adolescents.9 However, with an emerging emphasis on children and adolescents as the future of the developed society, more scholars are willing to introduce a new, interdisciplinary understanding of well-being as the basic framework shaping the childhood development discourse.
Well-Being of Children in the U.K: Conceptualisation, Measurement, and Perceptions
In the world of serious social inequalities, describing and measuring child well-being has become one of the top social priorities. An increasing recognition is that adult definitions of well-being are not sufficient to ensure smooth implementation of pedagogical approaches and social childhood policies.10 As of today, childhood wellbeing is understood as a matter of harmonic physical and socio-emotional development in children. It is also presented as a matter of protecting children’s rights.11 Numerous systems have been developed to measure the level of wellbeing in children. The Multi-National Project for Monitoring and Measuring Children’s Wellbeing was introduced in 1996. The UNICEF uses a different child poverty report as a measure of children’s wellbeing. The Index of Child Wellbeing in Europe and Kidscreen-52 are the examples of cross-national comparisons.12 In the United Kingdom, the Local Index of Child Wellbeing is used to measure childhood well-being. In 2010, another National Survey of Young People’s Wellbeing was organised in London.13 Avon also undertook a longitudinal study of parents and children to measure their wellbeing. Overall, a greater emphasis is being placed on how children themselves perceive their wellbeing.
An emerging understanding that children’s perceptions of wellbeing provide a better understanding of the concept fits well into the growing popularity of positive psychology. The latter reaffirms the children’s competence and agency and shifts away from treating children as passive victims of their social experiences.14 One of the most notable analyses of children’s perceptions of wellbeing was performed by Adams. The results confirm that children should be regarded as central constructors of their wellbeing realities.15 In the U.K., children approach childhood as a more positive concept compared with adulthood.16 The latter is presented as being stressful and tedious.17 Such perceptions may reflect the positive results of various programs aimed at enhancing and sustaining high levels of wellbeing among children in the U.K.
Healthy Living in the U.K.
Numerous programs have been designed to promote healthy living and wellbeing of children in the U.K. Such programs are based on the growing understanding that health and play cannot be separated from wellbeing. The current state of literature confirms that unhealthy behaviours have a huge potential to disrupt children’s wellbeing. For instance, excessive television viewing has proved to be a source of negative influences on children’s wellbeing, leading to poor attention and hyperactivity.18 It is also associated with lower self-esteem and self-worth in children.19 Children who spend too much time playing computer games are not as happy as those children, who participate in play and physical activity on a regular basis. Actually, physical activity and play are among the chief predictors of enhanced wellbeing in children: they reduce levels of depression and anxiety, increase happiness and self-esteem, and make children more socially active.20 Unfortunately, only every fifth child in England regularly participates in one or more types of physical activity. No less problematic is the situation with diets. They improve children’s memory, cognition, and family wellbeing, but few children are willing to eat healthy products and have meals at the same time every day.21 In this situation, schools remain one of the central players in promoting and sustaining high levels of wellbeing in children.
Numerous policy frameworks and campaigns have been developed to assist children in achieving a higher level of well-being. Until 2010, England ran its Every Child Matters campaign, whose principal goal was to promote physical and emotional wellbeing in children.22 Scotland’s campaign is called Getting It Right for Every Child and is designed to promote physical health, safety, physical activity, and emotional well-being.23 The Children’s Society in the U.K. has designed a research programme to provide rich information on how children perceive their well-being.24 The National Children’s Bureau also actively participates in developing and running well-being campaigns for children, including Playday and Anti-Bullying Week.25 Nevertheless, numerous gaps in children policies continue to persist, and specialists in education and policymaking should develop a better understanding of children’s perceptions of their own well-being and develop new pathways to satisfy their well-being demands.
Play, health, and well-being are intricately related. New policies and campaigns are developed to enhance and sustain high levels of childhood well-being in the U.K. Meanwhile, considerable ambiguities surrounding the definition and conceptualisation of well-being continue to persist. No less significant are the differences in how well-being is measured. The most problematic is the lack of attention to the way children perceive their own well-being. In reality, children have enough competence and agency to evaluate the level of their happiness and wellness. They are active participants of their social experiences. Education professionals and policymakers should develop a better understanding of how children feel about their well-being and use this information to satisfy children’s well-being demands.