Children and Outdoor Play: A Thing of the Past?

Have you ever driven through a neighborhood on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and felt like it was a ghost town? Evidence of children, like basketball hoops and outdoor jungle gyms, are often visible. But, where are the children?

Most people over 35 years old remember their own childhoods filled with outdoor play fondly. Our parents booted us outside every chance they got. We met up with our friends for games of hide and seek, kickball or kick the can. We played PIG or HORSE at the basketball hoop and rode our bikes for hours. In addition to games, we were out discovering nature, looking at the clouds and simply breathing in the fresh air. Why aren’t the children of today doing the same? Here are five reasons why children no longer play outside.

1. Indoor Entertainment

Modern homes are filled with cable televisions, DVD players, computers and electronic gaming systems. Young children spend a disproportionate amount of their time captivated by a screen of some sort. This passive form of entertainment is easy and keeps kids on the couch. The average child spends 1,023 hours watching TV in one year. Once kids move away from the TV, they head to the computer to surf to the website of their favorite shows. Then, back to the TV to play some games. But there are other inside activities and entertainment you can set up for your child such as autism-centric gym for children of all abilities.

2. Organized Activities

Participation in organized sports and other activities are at an all time high. Children as young as age 3 can be enrolled on soccer teams in some areas. By age 7 or 8, sports teams can be a huge time commitment for a child. Often times, 3 or more nights a week are devoted to sports. Other evenings and weekends are set aside for scouting programs, church classes, dance, or any number of other activities and lessons.

3. Mountains of Homework

Children as young as age 6 are coming home from school with piles of homework to be completed each night. With the new focus on No Child Left Behind, schools are working over time to make sure their students pass all the required testing. This often translates into more and more homework, even though the standard rule of thumb is twenty minutes of homework per grade level. A few lucky students are able to complete homework more quickly than that. For the reluctant students, this homework can take even longer.

4. Fear of Predators

Many parents are afraid of child predators. When rare cases of child abduction make the national news, parents across America begin keeping their children behind closed doors. Most child victims of molestation or abduction are the victims of someone they know. Stranger abductions are very rare, but modern parents have been taught that they are common and, as a result, fear them like nothing else.

5. Lack of Trust

Older children who are only allowed outdoors with supervision are often lacking in their parents’ trust. Parents know their own children best, but sometimes they can have low expectations for their child’s behavior. Parents of children over age 6 or 7 can fear that their child will still be too impulsive to be outside unsupervised. However, children at this age are often in need of as much outdoor playtime as they can get. Unsupervised play outdoors is a great time for the child to learn about his environment without parental input. Fearful parents can give their children some freedom by watching them from a window.

This generation of children is growing up without the joys of outdoor play. It’s time to turn off the TVs, cut back on organized activities and homework, get over our fears and trust our children out in nature. Let them explore. Let them be kids!

About Oblena

Janica Oblena is the writer of ‘Midnight Secrets’. She is a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in Journalism. She is currently the senior editor of
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