Thumbs. They race across joysticks and pale glass surfaces, clicking and pulling so quickly you need a stop time camera to appreciate what they’ve done. They kick footballs, pilot spacecraft across millions of light years and explode the sharp-teethed jaws of flesh-eating aliens who would destroy Earth and every living thing on it.
And that’s the only part of the kid that’s moving.
I sent in my resume and cover letter for a job today with a local non-profit organizations whose focus is one of the local rivers conservation–clean-up and local initiatives to improve water quality, with the goal to make the river swim-able and fish-able. I can’t help but think as a parent…is this what we have come to? I cannot expect for my children to have the same care free outdoor experiences I had during my childhood? I can’t expect that they will have places to experience, and that (even if they do) that they will have friends whose parents are on the same page regarding their children’s experiences out of doors?
In a 2003 study, 71 percent of adults said they had walked or ridden a bike to school, compared with 22 percent of children.
Another 2002 study found that 25 percent of 8-year-olds can name more Pokémon characters than wildlife species.
I spent nearly every day, after my chores and homework were done, outside exploring (until the street lights came on)–and I even lived in a town. I didn’t wear shoes to walk to my best friend’s house, two blocks away. I made friends with an elderly lady across the alley and helped her with her plants. Until we put a pool in, there were hardly any fences in our neighborhood, and our play area ranged through about 6 yards and two school fields. And yes, my friends and I were even allowed to swim (as long as our neighbor was home) when my parents were gone. Aside from a few of the busier roads, there were no boundaries and no parents (provided you didn’t do anything dumb enough to get your parents called). Bikes were our main transportation for trips to the library, a friends or (shhhhhh…don’t tell my mom, it was outside “the limits”!) the ice cream shop. I think they have a term for this today–free range kids.
…its sort of sad that the previously normal experience of exploring the outdoors and having solo experiences is so novel that we’ve labeled kids like chickens.
In only a generation, kids have stopped spending most of their playtime outdoors. It’s one of the most profound changes in the history of childhood, says pediatrician Harvey Karp, a board member of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group.
It is interesting that we (as a society) have bought into to the idea that outside is dangerous, when statistically, crime rates are nearly half what they were in 1990.
Beginning in the 1980s, sensational stories of child abductions and molestations created the widespread myth that predators were lurking around every corner, he says. At the same time, street crime and drug-related violence led many urban parents to bring their children indoors.
In truth, 78 percent of abductions are committed by family members, not strangers, says the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And the rate of violent crime against kids ages 12 to 17 today is about 50 percent lower than in the 1970s, says the National Crime Victimization Survey.
Even more interesting, when we consider that studies have shown what *really* makes indoor kids, are not just neighborhoods,but what moms think about their neighborhood. I also seem to remember that in my youth, we knew every family on the block…and not just from trick-or-treating. I’m pretty sure that lack of familiarity, in combination with the obsession of the media with overplaying and sensationalizing everything that is wrong with a neighborhood, has something to do with how moms see their community.
…a mother’s perception of her neighborhood’s physical and social environment was a key predictor of how much her children would play outdoors.
Maternal perceptions of neighborhood environments, both positive and negative, truly override objective measures
But by keeping kids inside, there is a higher risk to kids health–mental, physical and spiritual. Kids that play outside have lower stress and anxiety level, better coping skills and show less evidence of hyperactivity. Kids that play outside are more physically fit, with a lower BMI, increased bone density and muscle strength, and better cardiopulmonary health…and it may even lessen their chance of needing glasses. Kids that play outside learn better (and are more motivated to do so), interact with their peers better and care more about the world around them.
I learned years ago as a summer camp counselor (yet another dying tradition) that kids learn far more useful skills in just a week or two of running around in the woods than they do in a year of school. I can honestly say that I believe in outdoor experiences the way some moms believe in church on Sunday. Outside can be a local park, a bird feeder in the yard, a neighbor’s garden, or a trip to the beach. Today our Green Hour was lunchtime at a nearby park–we caught tiny gray frogs, picked a handful of mulberries, watched turtles, chased dragonflies and skipped rocks. So, get off the computer, get your kid (or your dog or just yourself) and go outside…those benefits don’t end at 18.