Why aren’t kids going outside?

It’s rare for children to play outside today.

I was listening to the radio the other day when I heard a public service announcement that surprised me. It was sponsored by the Discover the Forest campaign, which according to its website “encourages parents of tweens to take their kids to nearby forests and parks to reap these benefits and instill in their children early on a love for the outdoors, thereby developing future stewards of the land.”

Anybody else sad? How did we get to the point where we need to encourage people to go outside and walk in the woods? As I recall, no one ever instructed me to do that. I just did. And memories of the forests and streams of Northern New Jersey are some of my fondest memories. Today, however, many children don’t even go outdoors, instead huddling inside four walls most of the day.

Screen time has many children huddled indoors. And fear of giving up their devices, even for a short time, has them shunning their natural surroundings.

One easy to pinpoint problem is their addiction to electronics. People under twenty were nursed on cellphones and tablets and now find it almost impossible to give up their devices. Tell kids they’re going to a place with no cellphone service and many will simply refuse to go.

Fourteen million U.S. children and adolescents are obese. Getting them to play outside would greatly reduce the problem.

Then there’s the news. As a former journalist I’m annoyed by the propensity of the media to reinforce the idea that our world is really dangerous. That strangers lurk behind every tree to kidnap and kill children. This stranger-danger paranoia is absurd. The reality is that kids are much more likely to be victimized by someone they know: mommy’s boyfriend, their baseball coach, or Uncle Bill. That’s why child abduction is such big news. It’s incredibly rare. And yet many parents won’t let their children explore the natural world out of fear. Kids sense this unease and become frightened at the prospect of being outside. One result of this mania is that we now have an obesity problem, with 18.5% of children and adolescents tipping the scales in the unhealthy range. That’s close to 14 million young people. Imagine if those children got up off the couch and went for a walk in the woods or played in a park.

There’s a big, beautiful world out there and seeing it in person is so much better than viewing it on a screen.

What can we do? Parents, while I appreciate your deep desire to protect your kids, try to relax and give them a little freedom. When they’re young, take them outside to explore. When they’re old enough to go alone, set rules that will keep you calm in their absence. Have them tell you exactly where they plan to play and when you can expect them to come home. Teach them the proper way to address a stranger. Explain that they should never go exploring alone, so they should always invite their friends along. Show them how to contact 911 in case of an emergency.

Then, try to relax. Your children are outside practicing valuable skills, like making their own decisions. Will they make mistakes? Of course. But that’s the way we learn.

The vast majority of kids–88%–say they like being in nature. So give them a chance. There’s a beautiful world out there, and seeing our wild lands on a screen is no substitute for being there.

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

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5 thoughts on “Why aren’t kids going outside?

  1. tidalscribe says:

    ‘Forest schools’ are becoming quite a thing now. One pair of grandchildren have a forest school at their school and at nursery another grandson got to visit the forest school every week.

    Like

  2. annemontgomeryauthor2013 says:

    Perfect! We need more of that. If we don’t raise children to love wild places, I fear we will lose all touch with nature.

    Like

  3. Lisa Orchard says:

    I hear you. I am so sad that my kids don’t have the kind of childhood I did. But let’s face it, it is a different world now. I encourage them to get outside for at least an hour a day during the warmer months and they do pretty good. But I remember riding my bike all day with my friends and then we’d play kick the can at night. It was a good time to grow up.

    Like

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