What they’re missing

David's first fish

Hi everyone,

In the September issue of Language Arts, published by National Council of Teachers of English, I find a disappointing set of numbers. I quote: “In a survey of over 800 mothers in the US in the early 2000s, 71% of interviewed mothers recalled that as children they had played outdoors every day.IMAG1745 Comparatively, only 26% of these mothers reported that their children played outdoors every day.”Woods near The Barn[1]

Folks, this isn’t right. Why, in fourteen years, have children’s habits changed so dramatically? It’s always tempting to blame technology, the lure of staring at screens and thumbing off notes to pals and yelling through the latest computer game. What do you think? What else might be causing American children to eschew the pleasures of the outdoors to stay inside? More importantly, what are we going to do about it?



8 comments on “What they’re missing

  1. That is a horrifying number! I think technology has made both children and parents lazy. It’s easy for a kid to stare at a screen; it’s easy for a parent to let him. Everyone “wins.” How could this not also be a cause of childhood obesity?

    And I don’t think it’s only in the US. Without fail, when we take our kids out (which is every day) in the off-season, we are the only ones in the park/woods/beach/playground, even on a gorgeous winter day. We always remark on it and wonder where all the other kids are and what they’re doing. I don’t get it and find it so sad.

    Even worse is that when we DO see someone out, the parent is attached to an iPhone. On a recent summer outing to a beautiful seaside boardwalk, I was dumbfounded by the number of parents pushing strollers with one hand so they could scroll their phones with the other, not to mention all the people on the beach ignoring not only the incredible day but also whoever they were with. The first thing people lay out on their beach towels isn’t suntan lotion or shovels and buckets, but those stupid phones! If parents are setting this example, is it any wonder that kids are following suit?

    Technology is a wonderful thing. I could not do anything I do without the Internet. But it is also a curse. It has killed our attention spans, our patience, and our creativity.

    I also think kids are overloaded. They may be outside the home, but they aren’t outside in nature — they’re at piano, karate, football, pep club, ballet, soccer, and on and on. They’re exhausted and want some mindless entertainment. In those cases, who can blame them?

    As with many social ailments, the solution starts at home, and that, unfortunately, is a losing battle. I don’t like being pessimistic, but that’s the way I see it. You got me started, David! This is a topic that riles me no end.

  2. I believe a 100% what Renee is saying. Today, not many kids live in the country or on farms; as a kid, the town kids stayed in the house more. Our friends way back when… loved to come out to our farm. We as parents and grandparents need to set an example.

  3. Awful statistic. Technology (great as it is) has so to do with it, and paranoia as well- and technology feeds the paranoia. We are flooded with news, much of which is frightening. Parents tend to over-schedule their kids’ lives- perhaps to keep them busy and safe and to provide them with as many opportunities as they can. I agree with Renee (on everything) but especially that kids are overloaded and need some mindless entertainment. Kids love nature. I feel the parents (many who are also overloaded with work and responsibilities) need to make outdoor time a priority. Nature is one of the best teachers, offers so much fulfillment – and kids inherently love it. But parents do need to set the example- and that means putting those stupid smart phones 🙂 (seductive as they are) aside.

  4. I can echo what Renee said about the phones, parents and strollers walking by, cell phones to the ears. At our school, we spend as much time outside as possible with all the students, attempting to show them that nature can be wonderful in many ways. They go out to play, to write, to observe. We believe that since 9/11, & then so many horrific things through the recent years have made parents just schedule their children, seeming to keep them safe? One primary teacher of 6 & 7 year olds believes that part of her work is to help children learn to play. Many have a tough time pretending! I have a beautiful park near me, & kids are there, but parents sit on benches with their phones, & the kids who are there are young. I rarely see any who are older than about 7 years. What we can do about it: keep sharing our love of nature with everyone, and take those children we know outdoors! Thanks for sharing the news, albeit not so good.

  5. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. I realize that I was one of the lucky kids who had access to an outdoors filled with the wonders of nature. Mine were fields rather than streets and sidewalks, trees rather than concrete buildings, wild animals, horses, cows, rather than dogs on leases out for poop&pee walks.

    As a middle school boy mine was a neighborhood with enough other outdoor kids to scare up an impromptu baseball or football game and enough green space to play on.

    I had a stay at home mother who made my butterfly nets and drove me deeper into the country so I could collect. Drove me to other guys’ houses who live on creeks or on farms where we could go walking and exploring.

    I understand that the scene is dramatically different for city kids who have far fewer outlets for their energies outside their homes and apartments. But I do not think that this situation has changed all that much since the first survey was taken 14 years ago.

    When I visit large urban communities, I sometimes see outdoor basketball courts and often these are full of kids practicing their skills. Here and there are ball diamonds where other young athletes can play in a league. What I don’t recall seeing are many parkways, nature trails, and open fields that have been set aside to attract young people to just get out to be out. The nature trail near our house is often crowded with adults on foot or bicycle, and sometimes a younger member of the family is involved, but I don’t count the trail as a magnet for young people.

    I know there has to be a menu of outdoor attractions and the menu will be quite different from community to community. But trite as it is to say, where there is a will, there is a way. I think a lot more study would need to be done beyond asking 800 moms about their children’s activities, and maybe there’s a world of study already done and actions taken. I haven’t looked into it at all, yet. But that brief report in the NCTE journal certainly gave me whiplash.

  6. In addition to technology there also is this idea that it’s no longer safe for a child to be outdoors without an adult (despite the fact that crime statistics are generally going down.) When my son started school about 20 years ago, we lived less than a mile from the school and kids walked home together in groups, stopping at the park on the way home. I don’t think that happens anymore.

  7. Buffy and Anne, sadly I think the fear of abduction does play a role in the changing dynamics. The media relentlessly keeps us informed of every bad thing that happens to anyone anywhere anytime. Bad things happened when I was a kid, too, but we weren’t being spooked by reports of it 24/7. I’m sure that parents worry more than they used to when their children leave the house. The children themselves may experience the say worry. But I still think the real heavy is the alternative lifestyle that technology has made available.

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