Two stories about why kids are not outdoors so much these days

Breugel childrens gamesI have written quite a lot about the decline in children’s freedom to play and get around out of doors. The topic is often the subject of media debate. In an effort to raise the quality of this debate, I offer two charts with contrasting explanations for this change.

The Media Version

over-protective parents lead kids to be kept indoors

A Better VersionLots of physical, social and economic factors lead kids to be kept indoors

Notes for editors (and readers)
1) I know of no good evidence to back up the assumption made in the first chart (that parents as a group have simply become more protective than they used to be).
2) My second chart is no doubt a partial picture. It includes some of the more important changes, with a focus on the UK and/or USA and the last 30 or 40 years. Also, I wanted to back up my claims. Hence this chart only includes trends that are reasonably well supported by common-sense argument or evidence. (Here are my sources.)
3) I have left out factors that are not well supported by evidence. For example, I thought that one factor might be declining levels of trust and neighbourliness. But it turns out that, in the UK at least, the evidence on this is mixed [pdf link].

Have I left anything out? I am sure I have (see notes above). I would welcome comments and suggestions. I am particularly keen to include factors that are supported by evidence. I don’t mean evidence of cause and effect (that would be hard). I just mean evidence, rather than assertion or opinion. In other words: if you make a claim that ‘X has changed’ then I’d like to see some numbers to back up the claim. All such claims – and any other comments – gratefully received!

81 responses to “Two stories about why kids are not outdoors so much these days

  1. Version 2 begins to capture the various, inducements, pressures, fears and barriers to escaping the indoors.

  2. Smart move, Tim.

    Without wanting to overcomplicate things ( a necessary step on the road to simplicity, unfortunately) you could add in a couple of effects, which I THINK can be documented, via surveys etcetera:

    1. media hysteria about peedos going back to the motherlode (term used ironically) ‘the Cleveland Child Abuse Scandal’ This has contributed to parent’s distrust of strangers (despite the statistics on abuse indicating that ‘strangers’ are the least likely ‘danger’,

    2. and the impact on men in education and child care – C&YP mag carried an item from one of the childcare training bodies or examiners – sorry for vagueness ‘only 1 person in childcare, under the age of 25, in UK is male.

    You should also modify your diagram, I suggest, to make it more like Gareth Morgan’s system maps, which I often use in my work. I’m sending you a PDF with examples.


    excellent example of a simplicity emerging from a complexity – the tangle of a system map being the complicatedness from which the simplicity can emerge, to quote one of my fave quotes from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
    “ I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

    Maybe you should buy my book!

    ‘Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management’ I still have a few copies…

  4. “1) I know of no good evidence to back up the assumption made in the first chart (that parents as a group have simply become more protective than they used to be).”

    Really? Then someone’s not looking for evidence. It’s there. When I was a kid in the ’60s, no one had to worry. We ran the neighborhood, rode bikes, were gone from morning to night with a brief stop in for lunch, and no one had to worry about if we were ok. We could walk to stores, to movies, to friends houses. Those days are gone. I would no more let my kid walk a block now than I’d let him swallow razors. My son was two gnat’s hairs from being kidnapped in the 90s in a fairly affluent neighborhood of Austin, TX, but he got away by virtue of his speed and his knowledge of the woods in the neighborhood. It was that close. I don’t personally know of more than a few other mothers who don’t think exactly as I do. It’s just too risky nowadays.

    • Thanks for the comment Jo. The point of my charts is that these changes in parental attitudes don’t come out of nowhere. I repeat: I have yet to see any robust studies that track parental fears over time, and that show they are more over-protective than in the past. Their behaviour may have changed, of course. But to blame parents for that – to put it down to a form of collective neurosis – is just way too simplistic. Your son’s experience sounds terrible. But crime statistics show that those kinds of experience are a) incredibly rare b) even more rare these days than decades ago. The problem is not the real risk, it is our perception of risk.

    • Truthfully, I don’t think there was any less to worry about in those days. I was a kid in the 70s, and my friends and I knew we were supposed to watch out for creepy people and not get into strangers’ cars or go inside their houses, etc. Our parents must have known that abductions and molestations happened, or they wouldn’t have warned us – the difference was that they addressed the problem by teaching us street smarts, and today’s parents address the problem by keeping their kids indoors. That said, I do worry about my 13-year-old daughter, and she doesn’t have anywhere near as much freedom as I had, but I’m trying very hard to overcome my fears and expand my comfort zone.

    • Actually, Jo, crime is now down to 1960s rates. There was a huge increase in crime in the 80s and 90s, but it’s been steadily declining since then. All crimes, including violent crimes, are down to 1960s levels. It’s no more dangerous now than it was when you were a child.

  5. sarahclarkgarces

    Another small factor could be smaller families, as children tend to have fewer siblings to “look after them” when playing outside. This is the case with my son, perhaps if there were two then I would let go a little more due to the perceived benefit of “safety in numbers”

    • Thanks for this Sarah – I agree, this probably is a factor. However, the downward trend in family size is very gradual (in the UK it amounts to a reduction of 1 sibling in around 100 years or so, I think) so it may not be as important as some others.

  6. Thank you for this, Tim. If we’re actually going to solve the problem of “kids not being outdoors so much these days”, it helps to have a concrete, realistic list of the obstacles we’re facing. Otherwise we’re just sitting around wringing our hands, doing nothing.

    “Parents are just more overprotective and fearful these days,” is just too vague. There’s no workable solution following that conclusion– only blame and guilt for parents. As a parent, I really appreciate the level of intelligence and depth you’ve brought to this debate.

  7. I’d like to see some stats on the effect of divorced/mixed families. And regarding the loss of neighborhood schools, we have a neighborhood school that parents will drive their kids 2 blocks to.

    • Thanks for this Shannon. My parents were divorced when I was a child, and I can still remember the name of the one other child in our year group with divorced parents. Very different today. But I’m not sure of the impact of this change. I don’t know of any studies on this, but I suspect there may be some that have explored it, at least qualitatively. Of course, the point of the chart is to show that it’s a complex picture, with no single factor that explains everything.

  8. Another factor is longer school hours and more homework. Obama wants to make it so kids go to school until 4 PM, six days per week, year-round. If this passes, kids will be under lock and key virtually the whole day.

  9. I’d also add that children are accustomed to adult-organized activities, such as youth soccer, boy scouts, etc, and so are less skillful at entertaining themselves on their own. I’ll ALSO add that after you’re about 8, playing at a playground loses it’s appeal: what do bigger kids do outside? Where are the skate parks? The hiking trails? What can nerdy kids do that’s outside? Do kids even play pick-up sports anymore? Do neighborhoods erect basketball hoops in their cul-de-sacs?

    • My older kids (10, 13 and 14) go to the playground and either play with the little kids (being older siblings), or sit on the swings or the picnic table and talk to their friends. They ride their bikes and run around with their friends doing Lord knows what. (My 13yo just told me some of what they do, and I decided I’d rather not know, LOL. Launching a bunjee cord over the fence, for example.) My 14yo daughter simply walks around with her friends and talks. They go to the pool. They build things in the backyard. They catch lizards and snakes and bugs. They investigate the local plantlife. (My sons are biology nerds, LOL.) They walk in the woods and go down to the creek. (We’re in a suburban neighborhood, so the “woods” are pretty small, but they enjoy it anyway.) They walk to the church, the school, and the snackbar. They helped plant a garden at the church, and flowers at the school. They have played some pick-up sports with other kids, but an obnoxious cop keeps telling them not to play in the street, even though it’s a side street in a quiet neighborhood.

  10. All I can say is that when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, all the notes on the second chart (Better Version) were still pretty much the same back then. For what things were back then. Me and my friends and cousins all had video games (Radio Shack Pong, Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision, etc…), we had hand held games, we had our own comfortable rooms, with television and yes…cable. Traffic is traffic. There may be more cars now, but there were still A LOT of cars back then too. Crime…crime rate was much higher back then than it is now. And we made do with whatever was available to us. So if there was no park, we played by the creek, at school yards, friends’ back yards, video arcades, the world was our play ground. And yes, most of us had both parents working full time, hence why we were so independent starting at a young age (9-10 years old). We were already street smart, could cook basic foods, do laundry, mow the lawn, wash the car, even do trips to the grocery to pick up some food items. These were actually all part of our responsibilities.

    Media has scared the parents of today. And these parents in turn spread the paranoia and insecurity. And because they way psychological evolution works, this over parenting/helicoptering mentality has become the norm. Sad. Sad for the children of today.

    • Thanks for the comment Eric. The factors I mention may have been present in the 70s, but I don’t think you can claim things were the same as today. The trends I describe since then are all clear, and their effects are not hard to imagine. Your observations about kids taking more everyday responsibility back then are intriguing, and as a child of the 70s I am tempted to agree – but again, I’d like some evidence.

  11. There may be some coralation between the increased screen time, obesity and sparse physical activity. It may also be related that poor health and infrequent illness lends to less time outdoors. Ironicly if you do the opposite health improves.

  12. Great post! We posted this at our Facebook page and someone pointed out that kids are being assigned a lot more homework this days too. Best, Josh Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

    • Thanks Josh. You may be right about homework – but I haven’t found any trend data to back that up (though I didn’t look that hard). I have to say my own daughter does less homework than I did at her age. Sample size of one, I know, but it makes me want to see the numbers.

  13. There is an entirely different set of standards these days. If you let kids run the negiborhood the police would be knocking at your door.
    back in the day it was the norm. Also I lived on a military base and had an 11-12 year old at the time. Her and all her friends ran and played all day. We had to put in boundaries, but it was a great environment for that and we loved it!

    • Bob, thanks for this. I think you are probably right. As a fan and friend of Lenore Skenazy, and follower of her free range kids blog, I have heard many stories that support your view. As I said in my notes, my chart was sticking strictly to factors where I could find hard evidence – not just anecdote or assertions – to back up my claims. Maybe there is evidence of the change in standards you describe, but I don’t know of it. In any case, my guess is that such changes have their roots in the cultural, physical and economic factors mentioned on my chart.

  14. Another factor that comes up often in discussion with other parents is the fear of being judged a bad parent – i.e. social disapproval (read on – I’ll come to the evidence!). So, perhaps it’s something more subtle than the media-portrayed ‘parental paranoia’ – more of a sense that good parents are expected to be paranoid/vigilant – but I do think it’s a factor which should be included in chart 2, although not exactly sure where. I don’t know if you consider this robust enough evidence, but the ICM survey for Playday 2010 found that “1 in 3 (37%) parents are concerned they will be judged by their neighbours if they let their children play out unsupervised” and this is definitely backed up by anecdotal evidence from the 90 or so parents who have so far participated in Playing Out workshops!

    • Hi Alice, thanks for commenting. My reply to Bob also goes for you, of course. I reckon there’s a kind of vicious circle in play here. Fewer kids play out (and fewer parents let them) so there are fewer kids out, and the parents who let them are more unusual, and hence likely to be judged harshly. So fewer parents let their kids out, and the cycle continues. The interesting (and positive) thing about vicious circles though, is the possibility of reversal. This, I have heard, is because the same feedback factors that give rise to them can create virtuous circles in their place. So: some parents start to let their kids play out more in their neighbourhood, then others decide maybe it’s not such a bad idea. I’m sure that’s one of things you hope playing out will achieve.

  15. Great post this Tim, very useful summary and good reminder not to fall into the simplicity trap.

    I’d love to take the time to go through the World Without Play Literature review (, updated a couple of months ago, to double check the lines.

    I agree with Alice above on perceptions (real & imagined) of parents being concerned about others views of them as parents. The Welsh Children’s Commissioner tells a heart wrenching story about the little girl that asked if it was ilegal to play in her front garden as her mother didn’t want her to… Add to that fear of what neighbours might say if children damage cars or leave a mess on the pavement, that stops even the pavement play. I will try and find source for that, I think I heard a Dutch researcher from Rotterdam talking about it at a conference and rings true from experiences of people I’ve spoken with.

    Also in the ‘schools & catchment’ could be added ‘school choice/lack of places’. Many children and young people attend schools on the other side of town either out of parental choice or because they didn’t get into the (usually shrinking) catchment so have to go further. For instance see the DfE recent stats on travel to secondary school in London: where over 21% of pupils go to school outside their own boroughs, with average distance travelled being 1.5 Miles, rising to 3.3 miles for those going out of borough. Outside London those distances get much larger. And the Guardian article recently ( showing 1 in 7 pupils missing out on first choice school. Point being this dispersal – instead of just going to local school – means children and young people don’t go to school with kids from round where they live, or that they went to primary school with, and are often too far to go visit. With massively shrinking lunchtimes and breaks, and a culture that doesn’t respect their right to play, this massively cuts into the freedom to play during and around the school day.

    Would be very interesting to see fuller robust research on family and children’s views on the barriers to playing out, and how they see those barriers being pulled down.

  16. I think you’ve left out air conditioning. We live more in places that are unbearable without it, and I bet that in others, going outside was preferable than staying indoors at times.

    • Thanks for this – where I say ‘more comfortable bedrooms’ I was thinking in part about air conditioning (and here in the UK, central heating). Maybe I should have said ‘more comfortable homes and bedrooms’.

  17. Daycare is the problem — and it is the elephant in the room. The child-adult ratio in daycare is prohibitive of outdoor play. They are mandated not to EVER allow children under age two out of the strollers when off the (typically miniscule) daycare grounds. The caregivers just stroll those kids round and round the block with no opportunity to get out of the strollers and explore and play, let alone develop gross motor skills. Older children are discouraged from any interesting outdoor play because of “liability” issues. One mom I know was called into a big meeting at daycare because her son (age 3) was “running with a stick” in the play-yard. This typifies the day care mindset towards children and childhood.

    These are the crucial years for developing gross motor skills and a sense of reasonable risk-taking, not to mention the intellectual development that is associated with free play. !!!

    I would live in a tarpaper shack before I sent my children to daycare.

    • Thanks for this Amy. I would say it is the quality of a lot of daycare that is a big problem, definitely. A lot of my work focuses on getting daycare providers to get kids out of doors more, and helping them to take a more balanced approach to risk. In some countries, even though there are lots of children in daycare, they spend a lot of time outside – for instance, in forest schools or kindergartens (eg Denmark and Norway).

  18. I feel like I’m the only person who feels childhood is the
    same now in the suburbs as it was for me in the same
    environment. After school I went to a shop, library, woods, or
    friend’s house, or backyard for maybe 1-3 hours a day, not
    the entire day. My children have the same freedom and
    are allowed to run in neighbor’s yards, but not allowed to
    stay out from dawn until evening unsupervised. Our street
    has a lot of kids though. Less people are having children.
    Perhaps there just aren’t enough children nearby on the
    street of various ages.

  19. Also, I feel like today’s children are constantly compared to children 30 and 40 years ago, however before that, didn’t children do a lot of work on the farm or even in factories years ago? They were probably outside more, but I don’t think they had the free time that everyone now seems to think they did.

    • Cassie – two good points. We need to remember that there are neighbourhoods where, even today, kids still play out a lot. And we also need to recognise how childhood has changed over periods of hundreds of years. Certainly ‘free time’ for the majority of children is a fairly modern experience (probably post-war). Not that I’m suggesting they should go back into the fields and factories (and I am sure you are not suggesting that either). Childhood has always been shaped by social, economic and cultural factors. Here in the UK one good book on the subject is Hugh Cunningham’s The Invention of Childhood.

  20. We think they need our external stimulation in order to develop. See Mary Jane

  21. Take your kids for a walk. Period. Step away from the computer.

  22. RE: the question of whether there is more or less traffic today-I’d like to add that either way I think today’s drivers are more distracted. Talking on a cell phone and texting are leaving drivers less focused on the road and less likely to spot a child crossing the road or about to dart after that ball. It’s not as safe for kids to wander the streets. Also I think the overall pace of life is more frantic today than it used to be, which leads to a less friendly atmosphere. People of all ages aren’t out doing things with their neighbors, they’re more focused on individual pursuits.
    I’ve begun to let my kids out in my yard without supervision, but in my case anxietites are eased by the feeling that there is safety in numbers (one kid out playing alone could easily be abducted, why risk there being witnesses? One kid could wander off without anyone knowing, but siblings are likely to notice and come tell me.) Just a few thoughts.

  23. Living in a built-up neighborhood with very little outdoor space or even park space near-by is one of the problems about giving children an out-of-doors lifestyle. Where I live (UK) any available outdoor space is given to new housing projects.

    It seems its about money – outdoor space for children doesn’t bring in a revenue for Council, so it doesn’t happen. Talk about short shortsightedness for the future generation!

  24. Thoughtful post. I’m interested in a column being added which identifies interventions which will make a positive difference. I agree with the range of factors identified as having a part to play in the problem. I live in the UK, on a fairly quiet street. I was one of a handful of families who allowed their kids to play out (unsupervised). This has changed over the last few years (more kids joining in) – I think largely due to our annual street parties. Cloistered kids were allowed out, met the others (who often went to different schools), and continued to meet up on the street after the parties. My son is fairly typical amongst his peers – he loves his screens. However, he has liberally interspersed his indoor gaming with going out to kick a ball around/build dens/hang out on someone’s trampoline. At a government policy level I believe one thing that could make a difference is prioritising community-focused housing developments with a car-free central area (CoHousing). This naturally leads to swarms of outdoor kids (which I have witnessed in CoHousing projects in a number of countries). We need a combination of changes to our physical, social and political environments.

    • Thanks for the comment Janet. It’s good to hear about a street where kids playing out is on the rise – and interesting to hear that you think holding street parties has helped. I agree that changes in planning policies could help to promote more child-friendly designs, and that we have much to learn from other countries.

  25. I grew up in So. Cal. Depending on the zip code, there might be 200-300 registered sex offenders in the area. I’m 37, when I was a kid, “The Night Stalker” R. Ramirez changed how people felt inside their homes. We started locking our doors and windows. The climate of safety for children outdoors has become unsafe.

  26. My thought is that kids simply do what they want most of the time now. The larger portion often do not really know how to play out doors so it seems boring to them. When I was a kid, many years ago, we were often told to go out and play. We didn’t always like it but we did as we were told. I have done child care for 30 years and unless the weather or air quality keep us in then we are out doors about 50% of the time that they are awake. New kids always whine about having to be out doors. In short time they learn from the others what fun it is and they learn to enjoy it.

    • Jean Ann, that parents are seldom ‘in charge’ these days is definitely a factor. My parents didn’t tolerate children indoors on sunny days. Neither did I when raising my sons.

      The kids who are in licensed childcare settings in my Canadian province, Nova Scotia, must go outdoors twice a day year-round unless the wind chill makes it unbearable. At the preschool where I work, we’re outdoors three times a day during the warm weather months, weather permitting. As you say, they do whine at first but quickly get over it and start having fun.

    • Thanks for this Jean. I suspect you are right that some children spend so little time out of doors that they are at a loss as to what to do. But we know from studies that a majority of kids would like to be out of doors more, given the choice (see for instance my Simple Fun report for Dairlylea.

  27. I let my kids out to play and the one risk I really worry about are those silly fake police officers that patrol our town (UK). Being picked up by these busy bodies is a real danger, they’ve already knocked on my door once as they don’t approve of children being out on their own. Husband answered and just said – tell me what law I’m breaking. But it’s a worry every time they go out.

    • Fran, anecdotally you are right – my book No Fear had a number of examples of children being arrested and even fined for things like trying to build a tree house or drawing hopscotch on the pavement.

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  29. It is interesting to read all the comments. When we`re talking about parents, many of us become involved and have opinions, even if we`re not a parent. We agree that it`s a complex picture and the list of `causes` is never ending, perhaps that`s the reason the research, qualitative and quantitative, is struggling to fully describe or quantify this matter. We shouldn `t forgot that more of us living in cities now comparing to 60s or 70s, and the population of many cities have dramatically increased in the last 30 years. When I was 10 (80s), my country (Iran) had just 2 cities with a population of over a million. There`s no recent accurate statistics, but today at least 10 cities have more than a million. Thinking more globally, these cities also need to accommodate the ever increasing number of cars in developing countries …
    However, it is interesting to listen to people from smaller towns or even rural areas who also report concerns about indoorized childhood. So again there pieces missing in this puzzle. What roles did “being outdoor“ play 20 or 30 years ago that it doesn`t play any more today? After all, children presumably didn`t need a force or a parent to tell them `go outside.`They wanted to be outside. How much does being outside matter these days?
    As an adult, an explicit or implicit role model, in the lives of children, how much time do we spend outdoors and what we do there? How excited are we when we`re outdoors? What roles does it play in our indoored life and work experiences?
    Sorry Tim, I know you`re asking for èvidence`but we keep giving you opinions! Can a grass root survey be a good idea to develop?

  30. Farveh – thanks for your reminders about the differences – and the similarities – in parts of the world beyond the UK and USA (which as I said was my main focus). The International Play Association produced a report that tried to take some global perspectives into account, but I am sure that more could be done.

  31. Hi Tim, great to have found you and your work. I’m a parent, writer and home educator also passionate about childhoods – and about getting children outside. I believe as we’ve gown as a society we’ve moved away from lives lived in close contact with the outdoors and this is where the problem stems from. We’ve tidied the outdoors away in many cases which has led to people not knowing or understanding about ‘out there’ – indoor screens are more appealing pastimes – the consequence of which is lack of confidence outside. It’s also not as ‘trendy’ as networking or gaming! Less parental time and engagement also add to the mix of reasons.

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  33. So true, Tim! I am always feeling like the bad guy trying to kick my 9yo son off the iPod, Wii, dvd player etc etc. In some ways, it must have been so much easier raising kids before all these things were invented. Even the homework he gets from school almost always seems to have a computer element to it – which needs to be closely monitored or he will sneak onto game sites rather than doing the mathletics or whatever he is supposed to be doing. Drives me nuts!

  34. Hi Tim, great to see such a wide range of opinion on the subject of children and outdoor play. Over here in Melbourne the challenge for me as a parent of four children, and like so many other parents, is competing with the high speed, interactive and amazing graphics of computer games, ds consoles and playstations. I am often pushing the kids to get outside in the garden or run around the local park but unfortunately encounter reluctance and little enthusiasm. The amazing thing is though, after a frantic game of tiggy in the back garden or a session of making mud pies all the children are in better, happier moods, which is far from the case after an hour on the computer.

    The other observation which has also been previously commented on is that the older the child gets the more challenging it becomes to re-enage them with their outdoor world. My five year old will find endless activities between the sandpit, cubby and flowerbeds, unlike the nine year old who has to be literally pushed out of the door. If outdoor play is an everyday activity from a very young age it should hopefully stay with them as part of their routine in their older years….

    Lastly just a quick mention around kids on the streets and in particular walking to and from school. We are currently developing a pilot program of a buddy-walk-to-school initiative whereby high school kids walk primary school kids home a couple of times a week. The initiative is aimed to meet parents half-way by providing some freedom to their children but at the same time adding the element of supervision from the older children. Its targeted towards high schools and primary schools which are situated very close to each other, and to primary school children who are in their final years getting ready to transition to high school. There are many other related benefits to this program that are not just about kids walking home for both the schools, parents and wider community. I am hoping it builds momentum once it begins..!

  35. Ross, Empressnasigoreng, Kate – belated thanks for the comments. Seems like a grassroots movement to get more kids out is sorely needed. And Kate I think you are right – the younger, the better.

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  37. Tim,
    For a detailed look at the rising (negative) impact of homework, read Alfie Kohn’s ‘The Case Against Homework’, and related articles at — he is very focused on providing evidence-based policy decisions. A study has been done on the rising fears of parents in the States, called ‘Parenting Out of Control’, by Margaret Nelson. She makes a distinction between the fears of the working class and those of the slightly older, materially and psychologically distinct professional middle class. The kind of limiting, hovering, anxious parenting we see in the press is more the demesne of the latter group.

  38. It’s also worth mentioning that elephant in the room: the basic distrust, fear of, and even antipathy to children that has been identified in our society. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, a student of Prejudice Studies, has coined the term ‘childism’ in her book of that title. It’s very disconcerting to think that we could be a culture of child-haters, but how else could you characterise the way we treat our young people?

  39. Thanks for the two comments above. I have read some of Alfie Kohn’s stuff and follow him on twitter, and you’re right: his material is well-argued and well-researched. Re: your second point, I have been thinking about attitudes to children, and how they differ in different cultures (when I was in Ausralia, I felt I saw less evidence of anti-child views, for instance.) Of course, it’s important to remember that what people write in comments beneath newspaper articles or blog posts may not be their considered view. But there are some worrying survey findings out there. I have plans to write a post on this topic.

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  43. We let our kids play outside every day. After living in London and moving to a small village in a cul de sac, it’s fantastic to see the freedom and joy playing, independently, outside brings. Our only issue is neighbours. You would have thought kids would be regarded as part of the community and it’s a sign of a safe, happy place with happy kids in the street. But a couple of our neighbours think it’s noisy and get disturbed. We would never let our kids disturb anyone, I am talking about just being on their bikes, kicking a (soft) ball around, skipping, being on their scooters, setting up stalls etc etc. But grumpy neighbours make us feel uncomfortable about letting them be out there to the point where the police has been involved. Thankfully the poilce seem supportive of the kids being outside. Any suggestions how to manage grumpy neighbours?

    • Helena, amen. I only let my kids play outside for 20 minutes every 3 hours during the “school day hours” because even though we homeschool, people keep track and they would say that kids should be doing their academics. My sister was reported for child neglect by a neighbor for letting her kids ride bikes after school. People cannot stand the noise of children. Some people just don’t want to be reminded they exist. This is a huge factor.

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  46. My kids play outside a lot during the wqrmest hours of the day now (February). Even in December they were outside making snowmen some nights until 10 p.m. Why, when no other kids are outside like this? The reason why is that we homeschool and they don’t have to study for tests or do homework.

    However, they are not outside as much as I was in my childhood, even then because of the recreation basketball and swimming lessons in the evenings. I had those in the summertime only. My children have those in the winter indoors now. In the summertime, they are playing little league softball, baseball and tee-ball. We have games and practices every night of the week. Because these are at parks, the kids are not in the neighborhood playing outdoors. They are at parks, and believe me, the parks are crowded all night.

    I think little league soccer is popular, too, and my daughter plays little league volleyball. My nieces and nephews do gymnastics and karate at studios.

    What ai am trying to say is much of the reason the kids are not outside in the neighborhood is that they have formal, scheduled exercise lessons instead. This is very different from my childhood. My parents could not afford that and nobody in my neighborhood could, so we just played games outside in the neighborhood all night long, unless homework prevented it.

    Homework and testing are huge reasons. I know because my kids have already given up asking kids to play. They know the kids have homework and have to study for tests. The worst time is April. April is the most beautiful weather for playtime and most kids are studying for the end-of-year tests.

  47. I have to drive my kids everywhere. It’s too dangerous on the roads to let them walk.

  48. Pingback: Snow 1, Snapchat 0 – and why this result matters | Rethinking Childhood

  49. Bella Englebach

    Some more bones for your fish bone: parents are judged or believe they are judged for not supervising their children and making sure they are in activities all the time.
    Nosy but well-meaning people call cops
    or child protective services when children are seen outside.
    Children are not taught to cross streets in school. Nor are they taught bicycle safety in school.
    New developments are built for cars, not people.

  50. Bella Englebach

    Some more bones for your fish bone: parents are judged or believe they are judged for not supervising their children and making sure they are in activities all the time.
    Nosy but well-meaning people call cops
    or child protective services when children are seen outside.
    Children are not taught to cross streets in school. Nor are they taught bicycle safety in school.
    New developments are built for cars, not people.

  51. Also, there is a snowball effect. If there are no other children out, it is not attractive to go out yourself.

    Also, neighbors have become accustomed to a quiet street. If they see kids, especially boys over 10 running around, there is the assumption that they are “up to no good”. Good kids are studying or in some kind of adult controlled activity.

  52. Where I live, I have to be with my kids. All. The. Time. Why? That’s what child protective services says. So my kids don’t go outside, because i’m super busy inside and legally I cannot send them outside by themselves.

  53. The second column of your ‘Better Version’ diagram is particularly pertinent I think. I remember reading a news article a while ago now, about a place that wanted to cut the amount of children being dropped to schools in cars. What they did was they walked around the neighbourhood viewing it from the height of a child, and found that visibility was poor as well as some other things. Hedges were cut down, walls removed and cycle lanes put in, and lo and behold! Suddenly parents felt it was safer for their children to make it to school without the use of a car, which in turn reduced traffic and made it even safer!

    I am probably mis-remembering the exact details, but I think about that a lot when I go past city schools surrounded by blind corners and hedges.

  54. I wholeheartedly agree with this chart! As a Kindergarten teacher for 20+ years I see alarming results from overprotective parents. Some of these outcomes are due to a large part of structured activities vs free play outdoors. These include; students who cant even hold a pencil let alone print their own names (climbing trees helps you become a better printer because you are strengthening shoulder muscles), stifled creativity (even though our classroom is full of open ended resources for building or imagining), kids who cant dress themselves or follow an easy set of instructions, very low social/ emotional intelligence and lack of critical thinking and problem solving skills (because their parents ate continuously rescuing them on playground squabbles), kids are so easily bored because of technology and it their instant boredom being fixed by parents). The results are disastrous. I thank goodness I am in the latter third of my career!

  55. Parental fears over time are often culturally determined and linked to where they themselves are coming from – the hood is no longer 98% dual income white middle class. My body of evidence is working in a community centre and raising my 2 kids initially on an organic farm (for first 7 years of my youngest”s life) and then in a very diverse and lower income rougher inner city neighborhood for their teens. I’d have to say that even with some legitimate fears, my kids locking themselves inside with devices is also scary. And even having had negative experiences outside with others going through their difficult stuff, I still encourage my kids to go spend some time outside and knock on doors to get other kids to join them. It can take more pa rental effort than it used to – and it is frowned upon by CAS to lock your kids outide now. It’s not just street hockey that’s changed, rules also. One could also add extra curricular activities, the increase in ‘malls’ consumerism or Tim Hortons in neighborhoods that were initially more residential. New arrivals fleeing unsafe spaces and not sure how it all works here. The additive nature of devices and social media and those little time killer games ala candy crush (I’m confident there are studies speaking to this). Because kiddos are getting devices pretty young now…not just as teenagers. And the way they interact with each other is via them also, not the communal family phone in the wall. All that said, thank you for sharing your reflections. An interesting morning reflection.

  56. I wonder whether there could be inclusion of the size/shape, ownership and cleanliness of homes? When I was little, (1980’s) we had wellies and outdoor clothes by default, and somewhere dedicated to keeping them. My parents were owner-occupiers and we fully used (messed up) the house to the annoyance of my parents but at least without worrying about what the landlord might say. The tiled kitchen, lino and wood floors were ok-ish for wellies, after all we were also traipsing coal and the odd pheasant to be plucked through the same space. Today, that sort of mess being frowned-on and it being impractical to make space for wellies + macs that are only used very occasionally. Couple this with ONS figures from which I surmise that owner-occupier homes are declining and renting is on the rise and wonder if the fear landlord-imposed costs and of losing your deposit is restrictive on outside fun. Many flats and even houses have no ‘wet’ floorspace, you have to be in slippers from the carpeted front corridor onwards. I’m in carpeted, rented housing myself, in the middle of the countryside, and I’d be in the garden much more if it didn’t mean fetching my wellies from the shed every time I wanted to go outside. Even owner-occupied houses are clean to a much higher standard: my sister does not allow muddy/paint play in case dirt is brought in, and despairs that her son enjoys digging (which feeds into parents being busier -she works, and I accept it would be mad to create more cleaning work for herself, as her house does not ‘allow’ dirt).

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