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Kids don’t play outside anymore and it’s all our fault

The days of telling our children to go outside and play until the streetlights come on are long past. And our kids are suffering for it.
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Karen Green, July 15, 2013 10:47:08 AM

A British filmmaker spent two years documenting the decline of our children’s connection to the outdoors, and the reasons for the decline are as clear as the brightest day: blame the adults.

David Bond’s film, Project Wild Thing, highlights the ways and reasons that kids have become so detached from the natural world. He says these include many social, economic and environmental factors, but that his ‘wake up call’ came with the surprising realization that his six year old daughter spent only 4% of her day outside.

Bond says that today’s children not only spend less time outside, but also have access to less space when they finally do get out of doors. He cites fear, technology, lack of unregulated spaces and the commercialization of play as reasons our children shun the outdoors.

And it’s all true – we treat the outdoors as our enemy now.

Why would we let our children play outdoors, where traffic, the sun, child molesters, bullies and fast-running streams are all waiting to do our children in? We live in fear of dangerous weeds and killer bees and trust no space or place to keep our children as safe as our highly regulated, air-conditioned, childproofed, peanut-free homes can. And these homes offer kids all the distractions from the outdoor world that they could ever desire.

The Playstation has replaced the playground, and quite frankly, it seems like parents are fine with this. It certainly is easy to supervise (or not supervise) a child sitting in the living room in front of the TV, especially when it’s been a long day and dinner still has to be made and mom and dad are tired.

And if we are to look to parents to model active, fresh-air friendly lifestyles, then we are in trouble. The average adult in the US spends five hours per day on leisure activities, but a mere 18 minutes of that time is spent on sports, exercise and recreation – the adult version of playing outside.

In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv theorized that children are suffering from ‘Nature deficit disorder,’ leading to a rash of behavioural challenges in our kids. It is a hypothesis that Bond’s documentary seems to be supporting as well, but perhaps the saddest symptom of our indoorsy life is that we are preventing our kids from experiencing some of life’s simplest joys.

Will our kids ever know the great adventure that is climbing a tree? Will our grandchildren know what a mud pie is? It’s up to us, the adults, to make sure that they do. So channel your own parents and heed their ancient cry of, “Go play outside!” Bring your kids with you, and don’t worry – you don’t have to come back in until the streetlights go on.

Image credit: Thinkstock


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