Playgrounds turned Ghost Towns (Why Don’t Kids Play Outside Anymore)

My workout today consisted of an 800m swim in my community pool and a short 8 mile bike ride around town.  Nothing too fancy, but during the entire time that I was out I could count the total number of kids that I saw outside playing on one hand.

In a recent study published by The Telegraph in April 2014 they found the following depressing information:

  • 1/4 of children spend less than 30 minutes playing outside PER WEEK
  • 80 per cent of parents admitted they have never taken their children star gazing or fishing
  • 60 per cent said there is now more for them to do indoors

Read the entire article HERE.

400 Acres of Parks and No Children

I live in a beautiful town in North Texas that maintains a total of 400 acres worth of parks including trails, nature preserves, pools, splash pads, and playgrounds. This number doesn’t even include the neighborhood parks and pools contained within the majority of the HOA communities within the city.

We live in a community of about 500 homes with an elementary school and playground and a community pool perfect for swimming.  We generally head over to the pool somewhere between 7:30 – 9:30am.

Here’s the kicker . . . we have only ever seen 1 other person in the pool with us.

During my 8 miles ride today I went through the largest park in town, past my neighborhood pool, through a green belt, and through 2 other neighborhood parks.  During this ride the number of children that I saw could literally be counted on one hand.  I did see several elderly couples walking or feeding the ducks.

So, Where are All the Children

Retro photo of Far west town

It is summer in Texas which means all the children are out of school but it also means temperatures are warm.  In North Texas the summer temperatures in June reach about 95 degrees in the early afternoon.  In the morning time the weather is only in the upper 70’s.  Getting out in the morning is the best time in this area to avoid the heat . . . so weather is a poor excuse for not being outside in the mornings.

There are approximately 30,000 children under the age of 18 in our town.  Where are they? They have parks, they have money, they have time, they have the weather . . . but they aren’t going outside.

“The inactivity—particularly of outside, large-muscle, physical activities—is being replaced by other things.  It’s not like kids who are inactive are sleeping all the time. But it’s a lot more sedentary activity, like watching TV or playing [on a] computer. That is a double whammy because not only are they not getting the large muscle activity that they used to get when they were outside playing all the time, they’re doing something else, and that’s a cultural thing, not just a physical thing.”

-William Kull, president of the Red Apple Foundation

This 2008 study found that not only were children spending less time outside but that there was also a change in culture occurring in our society inciting them to spend less time outside and more time on indoor activities.

Nature Deficit Disorder

Author Richard Luv has dedicated his career to the study of “research confirming that direct exposure to nature is essential for the physical and emotional health of children and adults”. You can find his book:“Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” HERE.

“Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment—but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.”

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So how do we get our kids back outside and prevent them falling victim to “Nature Deficit Disorder”? Three simple actions will make the difference and start the role getting our kids back outside and fill our parks once again.

  1. Example
  2. Mandates Unnecessary 
  3. Fun is Key

These suggestions come from a 2009 study published by Heartland.org where they studied the responses of 60,000 children ages to 6 – 17 regarding physical activity.  You can view the article here (this is where the quotes below come from).

Example

Parents can set an example for their children.  The researchers did not notice a decline in adult activity and thus suggest that parents should bring their kids along with them when they are outside:

“By instilling a love for outdoor recreation in youth, parents and role models not only help their children immediately but also set a long-term precedent for a healthy life.  The decrease in outdoor activity has accompanied an increase in obesity, ADHD, and depression. Outdoor recreation has been shown to improve achievements both in education and in health.”

 

Mandates Unnecessary

The researchers argue that government mandates will not work in improving or increasing outdoor activity.  While awareness campaigns can aid in increasing public knowledge of obesity and other associated outcomes of a sedentary lifestyle making a rule and expecting children to just fall in love with physical activity will not work.

“They think they’ll just make a rule and people will fall in line. That’s not the way it works. You have to motivate people, and that’s a tougher challenge.”

 

 Make it Fun

Introducing children to outdoor activities in a way that makes it fun will aid them in desiring to continue to go outside.  This is not the job of schools and should be done at home.  If schools mandate situps and jumping jacks (which aren’t fun for kids) than kids may stop wanting to be outside.  Instead try some of these fun outdoor games for kids or these pool games to help kids love playing in the pool.

Try simply taking your child on a nature walk, play rescue games or princess games with your kids.  Go outside and look at the stars.  Its not a science . . . its just being outside that counts.

“Kids are outside because it is fun, not necessarily because it’s good for them. The fun habituates them to a healthier long-term lifestyle.”

 

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Motivating Your Friends to Take Their Kids Outside

As a reader of SimpleFamilyFitness you already know how important it is to be outside with you kids you are already a fit mama or daddy.  The important this is to just relax and have fun.  Don’t use your children as an excuse for not being outside  . . . instead use them as a catalyst for being outside more.  Not only will it keep your house cleaner but it will prevent obesity, wear them out, and build a new generation of children who love the outdoors.

Do you have friends who don’t take their kids outside?  Try these tips to get them outside:

  • Join or start a Facebook group for moms and dads that posts activities for kids
  • Post your activities on the SimpleFamilyFitness Facebook page to motivate others
  • Google search “activities for kids in  . . . ” with your city name
  • Invite them to your community park for a picnic
  • Take them to the Zoo
  • Find a splash park and invite them to play

Generally speaking people want to be active and enjoy being outside.  Inspiring others by simple invitations can be enough to get them moving and outside.

Do you have tips to get your friends or tips for keeping you kids moving?  Share them below.

Image Credits: Matt WierPostdlf

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