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‘No Playing Outdoors Before 5 PM’: Heatwaves Are Reshaping Kids’ Summer Holidays

India is no stranger to scorching summers. But extreme heat is now changing how kids spend their summer holidays.

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Fit
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“If I let my son spend summer vacations the same way I did, he’d probably end up in a hospital. I feel sad that he is missing out on an essential childhood experience, but it is what it is,” says 35-year-old Chartered Accountant Aditya Shetty, who grew up in Pune.

On a typical summer vacation day in the 1990s, Aditya recalls that he would step out to play cricket with his friends at 10 AM, only to return after noon for lunch.

A short nap later, Aditya would walk to his music lessons held on a neighbour’s terrace, following which he would ‘relentlessly cycle around or play with his friends’, till his family hollered for him to come back.

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“I spent the majority of my summer vacations outdoors, and my son spends his indoors. It’s unimaginable that in current times, he would want to play cricket between 11 AM and 3 PM in scorching heat or would accept attending music classes on a terrace. It would be more of a distressing experience than a fun one. So technically, he goes to play outside the same time he does on school days,” says Aditya, speaking about his six-years-old son Aarav Shetty, who is also growing up in Pune.

India is no stranger to scorching summers. According to a 2021 study of extreme weather in the Weather and Climate Extremes journal, India has experienced more than 700 heat wave events, claiming more than 17,000 lives over the past 50 years.

Dr Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business (ISB), who teaches sustainability and contributes to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), tells FIT, "Heatwaves, defined by extended periods of abnormally high temperatures, have become more frequent, prolonged, and intense."

"The urban heat island effect, wherein urban areas experience higher temperatures compared to surrounding rural areas due to human activities and infrastructure, has worsened the situation in cities, putting the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions at risk."

Frequent extreme heat events are more than just ‘mere discomfort’. They are fundamentally reshaping how we live, and among many aspects, they are reshaping how kids spend their summer vacations across Indian cities – a significant childhood experience disrupted by heat, experts tell FIT.

This year could be particularly significant.

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Rising Heat in India & the Changing Nature of Outdoor Activity

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), India will witness ‘above normal’ temperatures for most parts of the country between April and June.

At least 10 to 20 days of heatwaves are expected across the country, as opposed to four to eight days witnessed in the past, the department predicted.

IMD’s intimation also comes at a crucial time, after the UN’s World Meteorological Organization warned that 2024 will likely be worse in terms of heat after 2023 was declared to be the hottest year on record.

"The frequency, duration, and intensity of heatwaves in India have increased over the last 50–60 years, particularly during the March–June season," says Dr Anushiya J, Research Scientist, Centre for Study of Science, Technology, and Policy (CSTEP), one of India's leading think tanks, further putting the matter into perspective.

"For instance, between 1961 and 1990, there were about 70 days each year with a 33°C temperature. But between 1991 and 2022, there were 89 days with a 33°C temperature."
Dr Anushiya J

When 29-year-old Vidya Gowri Venkatesh enrolled her four-year-old daughter Khushi for skating lessons in Noida, the latter was initially ecstatic, but soon she started complaining about the heat.

“The classes were initially scheduled for 4:30 PM, and after a few days, she started saying that she doesn’t like to skate due to the heat. While I encouraged her to attend classes, as I wanted her to be engaged in physical activities, I soon got a message from the class that they were rescheduling the classes by one hour due to heat. I was told that the children were unable to look up while skating due to the intense heat,” Vidya tells FIT.

She adds, “Going out even for a stroll in the park or taking children to play outside before 5–5:30 PM has become almost unimaginable. The children themselves prefer to be indoors and in air conditioners, and we cannot blame them.”

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A Typical Summer Vacation Day: Watching YouTube & Online Classes

“I go swimming from 8 to 9 AM in my apartment complex. I then watch YouTube, read books, and play games at either my friends’ home or mine. We play football in the evening after 6 PM. Some days I have arts classes, but those are online,” says six-years-old Aarav.

Would he prefer to spend more time outside? “No, not really. My eyes start burning, and I feel very tired,” he says.

In Chennai, seven-years-old Prachi K was pulled out of a summer camp last year after she suffered a heat stroke.

“Since we are a nuclear family, I thought it would be fun for Prachi to meet more people her age and enrolled her in a summer camp. The camp would start at 9 AM and go on until 4 PM, with a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities," 37-year-old Kavita, a homemaker, tells FIT.

She goes on to add, "But two weeks into the one-month camp in May, she was severely sick and became severely dehydrated. The doctor advised us to minimise her heat exposure, and we decided to pull her out of summer camp.”

“I now let her read and laze around at home during the day. I have enrolled her in dance classes after 6 PM. I was very mindful of the timing and did not want her to be impacted again,” she adds.
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Why Are Children More at Risk During Heatwaves?

The UN had warned that about 460 million children in South Asia, which includes countries like India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, are already facing dangerously high temperatures as the impact of climate change grows.

This means that three in four children (76 percent) in South Asia are already exposed to extremely high temperatures, compared to only one in three children (32 percent) globally, the UN children’s agency said.

"Children are particularly vulnerable during heatwaves due to several physiological and behavioural factors," says Dr Prakash.

Firstly, he says, children have a higher surface area to body mass ratio than adults, which means they absorb heat more rapidly and struggle to dissipate it efficiently, leading to a greater risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Children's bodies are still developing, and their thermoregulatory systems may not be as effective in responding to extreme heat compared to adults. They may also have difficulty recognising and responding to early signs of heat stress, putting them at increased risk."
Dr Anjal Prakash

Dr Saumya Renji, Consultant Paediatrics, PD Hinduja Hospital & Medical Research Centre, Mahim, further elaborates that children also have difficulty recognising and responding to heat stress. She says,

“Children, when left unsupervised, do not remember to hydrate and replenish the energy that they lose out on, especially when they are playing outdoors. Moreover, young children do not sweat like adults, making it challenging for them to recognise and respond to heat stress.”

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What Are the Ways To Cope?

According to Dr Renji, the one thing that parents must recognise is that heat shouldn’t be taken lightly and that it is important to take precautions.

“Parents must ensure that they alter their child’s activity according to the temperature. Do not send them out to play during high temperatures. Look for activities that can be performed indoors, like dancing, indoor games, etc. But most importantly, if a child is showing symptoms like extreme tiredness or is not frequently urinating, do seek medical help and do not let it slide.”
Dr Saumya Renji

Parents like Kavita and Vidya put extra emphasis on nutrition and hydration during the summer months.

“I have an app to track my daughter’s water intake, and I make sure that she has tender coconut water every day. Personally, I feel eating seasonal food will also help during this period,” Kavita tells FIT.

But parents are also worried about the unknown – long-term consequences of reduced physical activity during vacations.

“I think we will know the long-term consequences and the impact heat will have on their childhoods in a few years. I’ll be lying if I say I am not worried about it. Especially as the mother of a girl child amid increased chatter about lack of physical activity and early puberty,” adds Vidya.

One way to track this is to extensively study the impact of heat on children.

Dr Anushiya suggests, “While we have established that heatwaves are on the rise and future projections show that they will have a negative impact on children's development, well-being, and learning outcomes, there are huge research gaps in understanding and addressing children's vulnerabilities. Thus, it is important to investigate how heatwaves affect children and the challenges they may face during heatwaves to better understand and adapt to future heat wave hazards.”

(Mythreyee Ramesh is a communications professional and an independent journalist. She writes on gender, climate, and health.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Health   heat waves   Summer Vacation 

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