By Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi
I learned in school that the sun is absolutely necessary for photosynthesis to occur in plants so that they can manufacture their own food. In the same vein, I believe that the sun is absolutely necessary to the physical and mental well being of our children.
Most of my waking hours from the time I was seven to about 11 were spent outside the house. I’d rush through breakfast, and then race down the two flights of stairs in the four-storey police barracks where we lived to look for other boys to play gasing with. During marble “season”, my pockets bulged with colourful glass marbles, and during kite season, we flew kites in the evenings when the winds were up.
At 11.30am, I walked to school half a kilometre away and home again at the end of the day. In the evenings, there would still be time to take the gasing, marbles or kites out to play. All in all, I spent 90% of the day outdoors in the sun.
When my own children were old enough to get out of the house, I made sure they spent some time in the sun. I took all five to the playground and watched them climb and slide down the play equipment and run around with the balls that I sometimes brought along.
Every week, I took them to the outdoor public pool in Johor Linear Park gardens and get into the water together. Sometimes we made it to Pantai Lido in Johor Bahru. (Sadly, as of this writing, Pantai Lido has been replaced by a huge development that is meant for buyers from China.)
Between the ages of 35 and the 38, I was on the Taman Sri Skudai sepak takraw team, playing in the sun. This was the best time I have ever had, playing my favourite game. During this time, my wife took over the duties of getting our children out into the sun, playing with them mostly within the compound of our corner lot home.
There was a rambutan tree in the compound and a chute and jungle gym and a playhouse that I had built myself for them to climb and play in. Even then, I would say my children spent only 15% of the daylight hours outdoors in the sun.
Now I am a grandfather to three lovely children who, unfortunately, are spending 0% of the day in the sun. My daughter and her husband do not seem to prioritise it. Perhaps this is the attitude of most young parents like them.
My grandson goes to a private school, which appeared not to provide any means of sun exposure to the students. “Where is the playground?” was my question on my first visit to the school. Since I was the one paying the expensive monthly fee, I wanted to know for sure. The teachers took me to an empty floor and proudly said that this floor was where the children played. My immediate reaction was to reject the school but my daughter had her heart set on the school due to its proximity to her work place. So I relented.
With online gaming keeping them indoors and two busy working parents, who are also WhatsApping, Instagramming, Facebooking and God knows what else, to keep a stricter eye on them, my grand children spend 0% outdoors in the sun!
Thus, whenever they come to Kajang to visit, my wife and I make sure that they are exposed to the sun every day. My wife gets them to help her water her many plants, while I take over in the evenings and get them to play paper airplanes and badminton or go on short kampung trail walks with me.
My concern is, what will happen to this whole generation of children who grow up with little or no exposure to the sun? Their bodies will not be able to manufacture the vitamin D necessary for effective defence systems nor to produce the chemicals that trigger warm and happy feelings. How will this affect their state of physical health?
No one seems to care about how much daily sun exposure these children are getting especially during the pandemic lockdowns. Who knows – perhaps the many cases of deaths due to illnesses among the young adult population could be traced back to weak immune systems caused by lack of sun exposure. Perhaps the 25% of this country’s population that have mental issues of anxiety and depression could be traced back to the same phenomena.
What kind of health, education and parenting policies do we need to nurture children’s health? What kind of urban design policy must be in place to enable the building of more parks and play areas that are safe , with the KLCC park natural environment concept? When will the Islamic Marriage Workshops address these child care issues or universities include Future Parenting as part of their graduating curriculum?
Our children are our single most important assets, yet we hardly address these issues pertaining their physical and mental well-being, much less how much sun exposure they’re getting. Who knows, our children too may well need the sun to ‘photosynthesize’ wholesome growth.
About the Author – Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University.