6 Reasons Kids Don’t Play Outside Anymore and What You Can Do To fix It

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Note: This is the second article in a two part series about Free Range Parenting. You can read the first article here.

Reading the title above might lead you to believe that kids don’t play outside at all anymore. Of course that isn’t true, but they do play outside much less than we did back in the 70’s when I was a kid. Just how much less is up for debate, but this article claims that kids spend only half as much time playing outdoors as my generation did.

Why is that? The answer is common sense right? It’s because they spend so much time with their faces glued to a video screen.

It’s the Technology

So it’s technology’s fault that our kids are a bunch of rolly pollies, lying around playing video games and watching TV. Right?

Not so fast Sparky! I’m pretty sure it’s our fault. Us Parents. Me included!

Are we not the brainiacs who buy our kids smart phones, tablets, computers, and video games? We give them all sorts of reasons to stay inside and play with their devices, while at the same time discouraging them from playing outside. We think it’s too dangerous for them to go out alone, out of sight. They might get into trouble, or hurt, or do something that might embarrass us, or get us in trouble.

So, yes, the answer is technology, sort of, but it goes deeper than that. Here’s what I mean:

1. The News

You’ve got to hand it to the major news outlets. They’ve recognized that fear sells and they’ve cashed in on it in a major way. They’ve totally buffaloed us into believing that the world is a much more dangerous place than it was in the 70’s, but that simply isn’t true. There are tons of articles on the subject. Below are just a couple of examples:

The fact is, most of us have taken the bait and have become reluctant to let our kids out of our sight. Too bad, because the facts just don’t support our fears.

2. Proxy Parenting

At some point, we all (me included) discovered that we could count on the TV and other electronic devices, to keep our kids quiet and immobile for a decent amount of time. That allowed us to get our work done in peace and even a chance to glue our faces to our own devices.

Let’s face it. We don’t want to be responsible for keeping up with, or entertaining our kids, all day long. It can be exhausting to keep them from following us around the house declaring their boredom. Heck, I’ve dealt with this myself. I even wrote an article about dealing with bored kids.

Setting them in from of the TV or computer keeps them in the house where they will be safe, right? But what are the consequences? Here’s a hint!

One day, we notice that our kids are starting to look like Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka. Something has to change. The kids need to get up, go outside, get some exercise and learn at least a smidgen of independence. It’s only then, that we realize that we have a problem, and it’s next on the list.

3. Obsession With Electronics

Those darn video games are so addictive, aren’t they. How many of you are victims of the Fortnight craze? The creators of these games are geniuses at getting our kids hooked on their games. But whose fault is it really? I admit it. I encouraged my kids to use their electronics and now a couple of them are so obsessed with their computer games and tablets that it’s super difficult to get them to do much of anything else, much less go outside. Darn you, YouTube!

4. Isolation

Do you remember when people would sit outside on their porch or in their yards or go around the neighborhood just talking to each other? No, seriously. This really happened! Anyway, back in the day, it was Face to Face, instead of Facebook. The neighbors all knew each other. That’s why we kids were able to run amok without the neighbors running us off or complaining to our parents.

How well you know your neighbors often dictates how willing you are to let your tribe loose in the neighborhood. If you are good friends with them, then you may come to trust them. Your kids play at their house and theirs play at yours. But, if your neighbors are a mystery, you don’t feel all that comfortable allowing your kids to play in their home.

5. The Comparison Game

Stupid Facebook and Instagram!

Actually, I love social media, it allows me to keep up with friends and to also find people with shared interests. It’s also crucial to my blog! But there are a couple of things about social media that I can do without.

  • Imaginary Perfection – You know these people, right? Their kids are the brightest, beautifulest (yeah, I made it up a word), and best behaved kids ever. These parents only make the best decisions when it comes to raising their kids. Even if you know these guys are stretching the truth, it makes you reluctant to post anything about your family, lest you seem like a second class parent.
  • Keyboard Warriors – As a blogger, I put myself and my family out there for others to see. As a somewhat public person, I know that there are keyboard warriors out there that can only feel better about themselves by tearing other people down. I’m not bothered by it because I know it comes with the territory.

You, on the other hand, may not be intentionally putting your life out there on display. In fact, you may have become wary of those keyboard warriors, lurking in the dark and lonely recesses of their bedroom, waiting to pounce on you with their unsolicited judgments.

Unfortunately, you may have decided that it’s just better to keep your family out of the public eye, even if it means keeping them cooped up in the house, playing video games.

6. Fear of Exposure

Admit it. You make some of your parenting decisions based on your fear of what other people may think. I know I have. Maybe you put a coat on a kid even when it wasn’t that cold, or you won’t allow them to walk to the park because you are afraid that something like this will happen to you.

One time a nosy neighbor knocked on my door to tell me that my kids were playing in the bayou out behind my house. I knew this and had already determined that it was safe. I wanted to tell her to mind her own business, but I didn’t. I thanked her for letting me know, and then I pretended that I was going to take care of it. The reason I didn’t tell her to mind her own business is because I didn’t want her to report me to the authorities

The fact is, we live in a society where strangers think they know more about what’s right for our kids than we do, and sometimes they take their intrusiveness too far, like the case of this woman. Sadly, it’s easier to keep our kids inside where neighbors and strangers can’t criticize or report us for our parenting decisions.

Let’s Fix it!

Take the News With a Grain of Salt

Remember, the news likes to use scare tactics to get your attention. Do your own research and you will discover that our worst fears like child abductions and even worse, are in fact, exceedingly rare! Once you are armed with the truth, that should give you the confidence to let your kids play outside, knowing that they are safe.

Teach Your Kids a Couple of Safe Behaviors

There are three things you can teach to your kids that will greatly increase their safety while outside and away from you:

  • Make sure they always remember to tell you where they are going and that you both agree when they will return. It wouldn’t hurt if they had a watch and perhaps even a phone (preferably a dumb one).
  • Teach them how to react when a stranger approaches them.
  • Make sure they understand that they always need to go with a friend, never alone, if they are going to the park or someplace that is further than just down the street.

Teach Your Kids to Be More Self Sufficient

When kids are limited to a short list of activities, they might need a bit of help getting started on something new. Sooner or later, though, they will need to be reminded that they are able to figure out what to do themselves. Don’t be afraid to allow them to make a few mistakes. They will sometimes make less than stellar decisions when it comes to activities. Correct them, but don’t be too hard on them.

Recently, one of my sons took my golf discs out in the street and accidentally threw four of them down in the storm drain. I’m not sure why it took him four tosses into the storm drain for him to decide to come get me. I was irritated, and let him know it (in fact I think I might have been a little too obvious about it). In the end, we retrieved the discs and he got to crawl around (safely) in the storm drain. In the end, no harm, no foul, and I’d much rather he enjoy playing disc golf over HALO.

Ween Your Kids Off of Their Electronics

In the end, the only way you are going to get your kids to play outside is for them to spend less of their time on their electronic devices. One way to accomplish this is to require them to play outside for an hour for every hour they are on their electronics. At the very least, this will cut their screen time in half.

I don’t think that computers and other devices that can be used for learning should be eliminated entirely. They aren’t inherently bad after all. I would suggest that you begin to think of them as tools instead of toys. As tools, they can be very useful for learning.

Get Off of Your Devices

Need I say more? OK, I will. You are a parent and you have to lead by example. I have to remind myself of this all the time. You can’t expect your kids to take your mandate to minimize their use of electronics seriously, if you don’t have the self discipline to do the same. I’m not gonna lie. This is hard, but you can do it!

Make a List of Indoor Activities

Make a list of inside activities like games, art, Legos, puzzles. etc. that your kids can do when it’s not nice enough to play outside and you don’t want them on their electronic devices.

Spend Time Outside With Your kids

You gotta lead by example. The more time you spend outside with your kids, the faster they will see that there is plenty of stuff to do that doesn’t require a charger or plug. Use that time to:

  • Bond with them.
  • Give them ideas for activities
  • Become a healthy example – teach them some sports or games that you used to play, like kick the can.
  • Encourage them to become more independent and creative. You may even have to show them how to pretend.

Meet the neighbors

Make friends with your neighbors, especially the ones with kids. Invite them over to your house and let them see that you are a normal parent (unless you aren’t). Let them see that you know what you are doing, when you give your kids broad parameters for playing outside. Perhaps they won’t agree with you, but they are less likely to judge you for allowing your kids to walk to the park or climb in the storm drain.

Don’t Play the Comparison Game

One of the advantages of being a man is, other parents have lower expectations for my ability to make good decisions (and for good reasons, I suspect). I like to use that to my advantage. For example, my wife would never open a storm drain and lower her son into it to retrieve a golf disc.

I don’t particularly like to argue with my kids over fashion. If they want to wear stripes with plaid or a print with camouflage, have at it! I don’t worry about what other parents think because they don’t expect me to know better, so I just go with the flow. Because, in the end, why should we care what other people think.

If someone is horrified that your kids are always barefoot, so what. If they disagree with your kids diet of fries and root beer floats, so what. If you drive yourself crazy trying to find acceptance from your peers, they will end up criticizing you for being neurotic and up tight.

Finally…

Trust your instincts! If you think it’s safe for your kids to play outside, climb a tree, ride their bikes, walk to the park, play in the pond or swat at wasps with a tennis racket, you should let them.

After all, almost everyone has been stung by a wasp at least once.

Brian at Daddy Go To Timeout

P.S.

If you still haven’t taken Daddy’s Free Range Parenting Quiz, give it a try! There are ten questions in all. It’s free but you have to sign up for it by filling in two measly fields. Don’t be afraid, you can do it!

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