I was supposed to do a talk on this topic today and had my power point presentation ready and everything and then slowly but surely the RSVP’s backed out. So I decided to blog about the topic. I have attempted to link the power point presentation to the end of this post, if it isn’t there please let me know and I will email it to you. I am breaking my blog up into several different posts. This one deals with why kids aren’t outside as much these days.
I was reminiscing recently with a mom about how when we were kids we were outside playing all day long, especially once school was out for the summer. I remember wanting to go back out after dinner and negotiating my curfew so that I could stay out until the sun went down – in the summer this was much later than the 6pm I normally had to be home by! We were commenting that we noticed a trend with kids over the last decade or so and its that they don’t play outside anymore (ok, that was a blanket statement but it seems to be more true than not these days). The following paragraphs will look at some of the reasons for this trend.
Today we live in an electronic world. Kids, and adults alike are spending increasing amounts of time in front of a screen, whether its tv, video, computer, telephone, ipod/ipad/iphone, etc. There’s no escaping it. Even sending kids to their room isn’t a punishment anymore! In the article ‘How TV Affects Your Child‘ they take a look at the number of hours kids are spending in front of a screen thanks to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. For example, 2/3 of kids under the age of 2 spend at least 2 hours, kids under 6 spend at least 2 hours, and kids 8-18 spend at least 4 hours in front of the screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on their recommendations for the amount of screen time a child should be getting. Kids under 2 shouldn’t be watching any tv and kids older than 2 should only be watching 1-2 hours of quality programming a day. I know in this day and age its hard to limit screen time, especially when that’s what a child is interested in but you can work to create a balance. For every hour of screen time they get a day, they have to spend an hour outside. It may be tough but stick to it and you may start to notice a shift!
Safety of neighborhoods is another big reason cited for not letting kids go outside to play. I don’t know if neighborhoods are actually less safe than they used to be or if the media plays a big role in this perception. This article has a section (The decline of neighborhoods and loss of children’s outdoor play groups) that talks about some of the changes that have occurred. I do think that there are more families with both parents working and working longer hours, which means that they are home less. In years past neighbors created relationships with each other and watched out for each other s kids. In addition, there is fear of physical injury to kids who are playing outside and parents often look to control the risk by keeping kids indoors in a more controlled environment. This has its own set of risks as 1 in 3 kids are overweight or at risk for becoming so which increases their chances of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Piggybacking on the topic above is the change in kids and adults schedules and how busy they are these days. Many kids have extracurricular activities and enrichment classes that keep them indoors or they have parents that work and aren’t home to oversee them outside. It may mean taking time to reassess the importance of getting your kids outside versus the benefit of one more scheduled indoor activity. Maybe look at getting a babysitter with the express purpose of playing with your kids outside while you are at work.
In addition, a lot of kids aren’t comfortable or familiar with unscripted play anymore. They are used to enhanced digital worlds being brought to them in a regimented fashion that they haven’t exercised their imagination and play muscles. And, dirt has gotten a bad rep over the years and less kids and adults are willing to get dirty. We live in a world of anti bacterial protection and dirt is considered bad. Unfortunately or fortunately, playing outside involves dirt and mess!