In a fiercely competitive world, young people are using their limited leisure to build their skillsWith over 550 million Indians under 25, India is now the envy of many developed countries around the world which are facing problems arising out of aging populations. The 12-24 years age band is a,In a fiercely competitive world, young people are using their limited leisure to build their skillsWith over 550 million Indians under 25, India is now the envy of many developed countries around the world which are facing problems arising out of aging populations. The 12-24 years age band is a tumultuous journey, synonymous with life-defining changes. In this ‘growing up’ phase, priorities metamorphose. It’s in this context that the role of leisure becomes critical.While leisure is important for all ages, its importance in the psychological, physical and intellectual development of young people is well recognised. But in the absence of any concerted initiatives like sports, cultural groups and youth camps like in many developed countries, what do India’s urban young do in their leisure time?One of Technopak’s recent studies- India Consumer Trends 2006/07 – has brought out some very interesting facts about the leisure habits of 12-24-year-olds. Leisure is fast becoming sedentary and passive. Watching television is the most prominent among leisure activities for the youth, taking up close to three hours every day.Young males may still be devoting about 40 minutes a day towards sports but females are on the playfield far less. Office-goers spend barely 15 minutes on exercise of any kind. While spending time with friends still comes up as a significant activity, its importance is reducing as gaming, Internet browsing and other ‘my time’ entertainment options become popular.’Hanging out with friends’ as an activity seems fairly prevalent among the student community but reduces once they start working, and is mostly done at a friend’s house or around parks, movie halls, malls and markets. Access to a PC and the Internet is significant. Those who have a PC, use it to play games, work on something related to academics, browse or chat online.advertisement50% of those polled have access to the Internet, either at home or through cyber cafesSocialising, normally happening on the playground, is increasingly moving to a virtual medium, as it offers ‘own-term entertainment’. So, are we breeding a generation of couch potatoes disinclined towards any physical activity? The answer lies in an acknowledgement of the environment our youth live in today. In a fiercely competitive world with importance attached to academic excellence and getting ahead, young people are using their limited leisure to build their skills.An increasing number view leisure as an unaffordable luxury that cuts into time available for tuitions and self-improvement courses. De-stressing is no longer something only corporate executives do. Home has become the mandatory place to “chill, switch off and then thrill”.The other key contributor to this is, of course, the lack of urban infrastructure that would provide the facilities for active recreation. Most neighbourhoods have the merest apology of a park. Many of the larger parks in a city are offlimits for games. Government sports facilities are few and far between. Schools too typically do not provide access to their recreation areas after school hours. So where can Indian youth build the practice of an active lifestyle?It is difficult to hypothesise how today’s youth, brought up in such an environment, will cope with the challenges of the real world and what the impact will be on Indian society. However, as a 48-year-old, what I can say, with some sadness, is that the ‘virtual’ life we are subjecting our youth to today is not a patch on the ‘normal’ life we enjoyed in our youth-a life that seemed so much fuller even with fewer means and gadgetry.While it is not feasible for the government to create large, open spaces in major cities any more, it is possible to create hundreds of natural parks-each of a few hundred hectares in size-across India that can be reserved for outdoor activities such as hiking, youth camps, sports, and will bring the young out of their bedrooms, cyber cafes, and coaching classes into a world of sunshine and stars.