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All work and no play makes Jack a neurotic boy.
October 13, 2011 7:32 AM   Subscribe

The decline of play. As a society, we have come to the conclusion that to protect children from danger and to educate them, we must deprive them of the very activity that makes them happiest...
posted by bitmage (115 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
so, children play less and adults play more nowadays?
posted by edgeways at 7:34 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I was a kid we had an area of about 10 square miles we wandered/played in from the time we were about 8 years old. It included a small village, lakes, rivers, swamps, woods, the remains of an old country club (including a pool half filled with water, logs and frogs), an abandoned small, local zoo, a baseball field, football field, parkland and a golf course. Most of us had sling shots, BB guns (and eventually .22's/shotguns). Our parents didn't see us from 8 in the morning until about a hour after it got dark (unless we got hungry).

We all survived the experience, had a great childhood, and developed wonderful imaginations.

I feel sorry for kids today.
posted by HuronBob at 7:42 AM on October 13, 2011 [25 favorites]


The problem with free-range children is that all that foraging in the hills makes them skittish and more than a little tough when it comes time to herd and wrangle them at the end of the season.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:44 AM on October 13, 2011 [48 favorites]


The mothers [cited] safety concerns, a fact echoed in other surveys where parents mentioned child predators, road traffic, and bullies as reasons for restricting their children's outdoor play.
Anyone know about this Peter Gray's methods or statistics? Esther Entin hasn't cited the most compelling studies, dispute being an M.D. herself.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:45 AM on October 13, 2011


I think it's a suburban thing.

I am 40 years old, and we have two sons. I live in the same small city where I grew up, and the biggest change (but not the only change) between when I was a kid and now is the number of cars on the road. Thanks to secondary suites, there must be three times as many cars parked along the cul-de-sac where I grew, and where my parents still live. I used to play on that street when I was a kid, along with all the other kids, but I would not let my sons play there now - I don't want them to get hit by a car.

On the other hand, we live in a townhouse complex quite close to downtown, as well as miles beach and a large, beautiful urban park. My sons play outside in the summer from morning until night, and I try to encourage them to leave the block and go play a few streets away in a nice school playground with plenty of boulders to climb on, trees to climb, and shrubs to hide behind.

I don't know what we would do if we lived in the suburbs - there are no sidewalks, people drive too fast, and there are too many cars.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:47 AM on October 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


WHO AND WHAT IS INTERFERING WITH CHILDREN'S PLAY?
posted by cashman at 7:49 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]



When I was a kid we had an area of about 10 square miles


I always get confused in these conversations because I had this too when I was a kid (70s) but I called where I grew up 'the suburbs' cuz we were a short train ride from NYC and maybe a one hour drive. But nowadays I guess people call that 'the country' whereas 'burbs are these hideous things where all the houses are the same, jammed up against each other, with no trees, no open space and nothing but roads everywhere. That's not the fault of ZOMG predators....that's the fault of shit-ass urban planning and greedy developers/local politicians.
posted by spicynuts at 7:51 AM on October 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


duh..not urban planning....community planning.
posted by spicynuts at 7:52 AM on October 13, 2011


The coolest thing is how children's games get transmitted from generation to generation, with no help from adults. Also, I've noticed the kids in the neighbourhood are playing a game I had not heard of before - jackpot.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:53 AM on October 13, 2011



so, children play less and adults play more nowadays?


In a very regulated and controlled way.

We're allowed to play video games until we die, but we are not particularly encouraged to be creative or push the envelope.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:54 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Someone is going to say gamification, and then this thread will have derails about how gamificiation is bad, gamification has a funny name, and who can make the best snark about earning badges.

Ooops.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:55 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can appreciate a nice set of gams, if that's what you mean.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:56 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Article about family life in The Atlantic... is this something I need to be a yuppie in my 30's/40's, have an income in the top 1%, and live in my McMansion or similarly sized upper east side Manhattan apartment to understand?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 7:56 AM on October 13, 2011


I think it's a suburban thing.

Nah, i live in a town surrounded by farms and horses, and those friends i have with kids are as bad as any of them when it comes to letting the kid "play". I know it's a "in my day" thing, but, when i was growing up, i was all over the place. No cell phone, just getting on my bike and biking for miles out of town for no reason. Once even biked to the nearest city (17 miles) to get comics. Meanwhile, my friends kids have to be constantly win the cell phone, or in their view. I would have gone nuts honestly. Not that i didn't anyway, but that's another story. ;)
posted by usagizero at 7:56 AM on October 13, 2011


I've had parents tell me that this is primarily the fault of increased traffic, and I've no reason not to believe their reasons here, but it strikes me as interesting that I see more kids playing out in traffic-heavy-but-poor areas than I do in areas which have less traffic but are more affluent.

Personally, I'm a fan of having cars banned 1 day of the week. And homework being banned for all children under the age of 11. And the middle classes having their children taken off them.
posted by seanyboy at 7:57 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


But yeah, I hate to say it, but as a college student, my play is way more interesting than my play as a child. I knit, I crochet, I homebrew, I cook, I fiddle with an Arduino, I write python scripts to do weird things, and I enjoy every minute of it. Meanwhile, as a kid, I felt like the easiest form of play was just to consume media (video games, TV, books, etc), which is hardly play and really more leisure. Having the money, liberty (in terms of not too many rules) and free time to do these things really opens up a new world.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:57 AM on October 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


edgeways Well, of course. If you'd been deprived of the play you needed when you were a child, wouldn't you play a hell of a lot more as soon as you were out from under your parents' thumbs? We have a lot of lost character development to make up for.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 7:59 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Our parents didn't see us from 8 in the morning until about a hour after it got dark

I grew up in a similar environment. It's depressing that now, when a parent can equip a child with a instant communication system/gps locator, they're unwilling to let the children out of sight.

My house backs up on a large park/greenway system with a creek and other wonders, but it's rare to see a group of children playing on their own. It's usually a single child with a hovering parent. I blame the "Pedophiles are behind every tree! Be afraid!!" media of the last ten years or so.
posted by bitmage at 8:02 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mister Fabulous: "Article about family life in The Atlantic... is this something I need to be a yuppie in my 30's/40's, have an income in the top 1%, and live in my McMansion or similarly sized upper east side Manhattan apartment to understand?"

On the one hand, lolfirstworldproblems, sure; I get that. But on the other...
Suicide rates quadrupled from 1950 to 2005 for children less than fifteen years and for teens and young adults ages 15-25, they doubled. Gray believes that the loss of unstructured, free play for play's sake is at the core of this alarming observation and that as a society, we should reassess the role of free play and the factors that seem to have all but eliminated it from our children's lives.
If those rates and their increases are accurate, that's just chilling. I suspect that if they are, the drivers are more multivariate than just "less unstructured playtime" but can easily accept it as one of the facets.
posted by Drastic at 8:06 AM on October 13, 2011


I've had parents tell me that this is primarily the fault of increased traffic, and I've no reason not to believe their reasons here, but it strikes me as interesting that I see more kids playing out in traffic-heavy-but-poor areas than I do in areas which have less traffic but are more affluent.

We live in public housing, and, while we're doing okay, we still don't have the money to send our kids to hockey, karate, piano lessons, swimming, etc etc 6 days a week.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 AM on October 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Here's the article (I didn't see it linked in the post or in here yet) as noted, at the American Journal of Play: Peter Gray - The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents [21-page pdf]. If you like that, they also have Why Parents Should Stop Overprotecting Kids and Let Them Play [20-page pdf]. If you like that, poke around some more and you'll probably find an article titled "No for real, I'm being serious, get that stick out of your butt and let them damn kids play"
posted by cashman at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


I blame America's Most Wanted, Cops your local news, and the whole "OMG THEY'RE GOING TO KILL YOU AND YOUR KIDS!!!!!!!!!" entertainment-posing-as-reality that saturates this society.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:14 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Looking back on my childhood in the late 80s/early 90s, I think I was pretty clearly in a transitional phase with regards to time allowed to roam, but I don't think it was parental overprotectiveness that caused the change. We had some pretty extensive woods behind and around our house and I spent a fair amount of time exploring those woods, collecting tadpoles and otherwise making like I was a character in Tom Sawyer. As I got older, though, I did less and less of that and spent more and more time indoors playing video games and the like. It wasn't that my parents wouldn't let me go outside, they thought I needed to do it more, it was just that outside was hot and inside was cool, and outside had no Mario, and I what I really wanted to do was play Mario. It was the comfort that kept my inside, not my parents.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:14 AM on October 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Parents who drive their kids to school because they're afraid to let their kids walk to school because of all the dangerous automobile traffic around the school during pick-up and drop-off times should be ... I dunno. Something.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:18 AM on October 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think one culprit (among others, of course), is middle-aged vision, which often has a hard time seeing all the ways children find to play. Especially if they're different from what the seer remembers as the best times of their childhood.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:20 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the late sixties, my mother sent me to kindergarten every morning in a taxi.
posted by steambadger at 8:20 AM on October 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


No one's mentioned Free Range Kids, yet?
posted by bentley at 8:21 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I grew up in suburbs, and we all had unstructured playing outside all the time. I am now in another suburb of the same city. I have no idea how many kids live on my street. They are never visible. Nobody is kicking a ball around, or riding a bike, or skating down the street -- ever, in the 10 years that I've lived here. They do all have events, though -- soccer practice, baseball practice, things like that. But there's no simple "free time" with play. My coworkers who have children tell me it's best this way, because they can drop them off and pick them up (scheduling is easy) and because it's more educational, and that the games have adults who make sure everything is fair and nobody gets hurt (emotionally or physically).
posted by Houstonian at 8:22 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the article: "Parents who hover over and intrude on their children's play are a big part of the problem, according to Gray."

This, this, this. I have two small kids and let them have a lot of autonomy because I live in a place where it's possible to let them roam and discover things to do. Mess (urgh) is just par for the course, even if it means a midday shower and doing an extra load of laundry. If they complain that they're bored, I say "Go play outside, or else come in and I will give you a chore to do." When we go to local parks with other children, I am firm in saying "Go play with your friends" and not being the one on the other side of the teeter-totter. I am not the source of fun, period. More like a provider of an opportunity for them to make their own fun. I expect them to have the curiosity and drive to go explore without my intervention (except for dangerous situations) because I respect their existence as human beings, and because they are not my little experiments in self-promotion/control. Gray's points about the benefits of play are good, but the central issue for me is that my kids *do it themselves.*

Recently, at a playground, a child rushed up in tears and loudly complained about an incident with another kid. The drama immediately squashed all other conversation as the various mothers tried to establish what happened. I'm a bad social mommy. I looked at my son, who was standing there too, and said, "Jimmy's feelings are hurt. It will make him feel better if you play with him." To my son's credit, he put his arm around the child and said "Hey, let's go down the big slide." And they both ran off and that was the end of the tears. Hovering deprives kids of the chance to solve problems themselves, just as over-structuring play takes away from the possibility of discovery.

Run! Play! But no ER today, OK, kids?
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:23 AM on October 13, 2011 [51 favorites]


It's interesting that the article cites increased focus on education as one factor in limiting children's play, when most teachers I know are encouraged to incorporate as many different modes of learning in the classroom. This doesn't prevent some teachers from assigning desk-work, but it's an interesting dichotomy.

As a kid, my sister and I tore around the neighborhood on bikes, getting into all sorts of scrapes. But when I got to be about 11 or 12, Mom deliberately made me put away a lot of my toys, telling me I was a big girl and it was time to behave like one. It was like rolling down one of those steel shop-front doors on my concept of play. Store's closed, no play for you! It's amazing the impact that simple action had on me over the years. I've spent years trying to re-learn how to play.
posted by LN at 8:24 AM on October 13, 2011


I have to say, I don't completely understand the conflation of 'play' and 'outdoor play'. I spent wonderful hours playing as a child, but really very little of it was outdoors - instead I turned cardboard boxes into space ships, cajoled my baby brother into endless theatrical performances, and made books about the parasites of the human body. The studies as quoted seem to suggest that actually all play is on the decline (they include time spent on computer games in their reckoning of 'play time'); this being the case, surely the real problem here is the hovering, not the lack of outside time, and talking about safe roads and paedophiles kind of distracts from this.
posted by Acheman at 8:25 AM on October 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


(We live in a suburb, but it's an older suburb, with straight streets and sidewalks and some of the streets have lights and there's a lot of stuff in walking distance.)

Our son's 10, and for the past year or so we've been letting walk to his friend's house, walk home from the drop off point for summer camp, walk over to the elementary school where there's a big field and a playground, go to the library. (All of these places are within a triangle-shaped area bordered by major streets; the streets in the triangle are minor residential streets.)

We're now, in the last few weeks, letting him cross the major streets. He walks home from school with a friend of his (though they've been fighting lately, so I go pick him up), he's gone to the bagel shop across the street with his cousin to buy lunch for us.

He carries a cell phone with him. It's not *his* phone, it's ours that we give to him when he leaves the house and get back from him when he comes home. He calls me if his plans change, he uses it for a timer (so he gets home on time), and he knows that if he's ever in a difficult situation, he can call me and I will pick him up, no questions asked.

My biggest concern is not pedophiles, it's distracted drivers. A woman was on her cell phone and hit (and killed) our neighbor's dog, right in front of our house. I've almost been hit by cars on numerous occasions when I would cross the street to go to the grocery store (crossing with the "WALK" signal, only to have some jerk turn left from the grocery store right into my path, and not seeing me until I wave my arms frantically at them and/or hit their car with my umbrella).

Parents who drive their kids to school because they're afraid to let their kids walk to school because of all the dangerous automobile traffic around the school during pick-up and drop-off times should be ... I dunno. Something.

I drop my son off at school in the morning (and pick him up in the afternoon, when he's fighting with his friend) because it's on my way to/from work. Also, two days a week he has band practice, and lugging a trombone a mile each way can be annoying.
posted by Lucinda at 8:28 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


WHO AND WHAT IS INTERFERING WITH CHILDREN'S PLAY?

A pervasive culture of fear championed by people who'd rather you not leave the house.

It's no accident that all of this is happening at the same time as people are perpetually told to fear their neighbors by every information venue available, a time when if you pick the right channels you can watch CSI-alikes that makes A Clockwork Orange’s "ultraviolence" look like a pillowfight from noon to midnight, seven days a week.

(On Christmas day of 2009, A&E decided to run a 24-hour CSI marathon. Twenty-four solid hours of murder-porn on Christmas Day. Gold star, guys. Gold fucking star.)

I was materially less safe as a kid, full stop. That is a fact. But I was allowed to run around anyway. But when my parents were raising me, it was also possible to go all the way around the dial without the majority of what's on TV telling you to live in perpetual, unending fear.
posted by mhoye at 8:31 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Pedophiles are behind every tree! Be afraid!!"

My sister-in-law's inlaws went on a rant about this; Wifey was talking about how pleased we were that our kids were old enough now to kick out the door and let them have fun all summer. Ms Inlaw-Inlaws went off on a tirade about how there are "perverts" everywhere and how she would never let her kids out of her sight like that. She also loves to brag about the suburb she lives in, which is one of the nicest, richest, whitest, and quietest place in her metropolitan area. Well, "nicest" except for so, so many perverts, apparently.

That's not to say we're not careful, our 15-year-old has a horrible sense of direction, so we've had to put reins on where she was allowed to go...because we got tired of frantic calls from her not knowing where she was or how to get home. The boy, however, wanders far and wide without a problem. He normally lives with his dad, so we've got some disapproving comments about how we let his kid leave the state unattended (we can see that other state from our back yard), and one time at 8pm my wife got an earful about how the boy was out after dark (we live 4 degrees north of the boy's father; the sun is up about another half hour later here in the summer).

The thing is, we live near a huge park, and right off of about 20 miles of bike trails that span the entire city, and three blocks from downtown, five from the library, and the kids are 11 and 15. Wifey and I consider it abuse to prevents kids that old from partaking in all that is available to them within bike range.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:32 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think part of the emphasis on outdoor play comes from the fact that many adults spend their lives in offices and feel like their children should take advantage of the chance to be outdoors that they (the adults) don't get anymore. As I said earlier, after a certain point all my play was pretty much indoors, and in retrospect I really regret that. If I had a kid who wanted to sit and play video games all day, I'd be strongly tempted to through him out of the house with a BB Gun and a sandwich and tell him to go shoot at something, 'cause most days I'd love to be able to leave my desk and go find some woods and shoot at something.

Of course, I don't live in the sticks anymore, so arming children and sending them out into the street would probably get me arrested.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:33 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I babysat some kids who lived in low income housing for a while. I wish kids could just run around with each other but the amount of drugs and sex that the 11 year old was getting exposed to running around with whoever she wanted was really scary to me. She had definately tried cigarettes and alcohol. There were a lot of fights and bullying and lice would just spread like crazy, I would put those nasty lice killing chemicals in my hair since I was hanging out in lice land every day and I made people check my hair all the time and would get itchy just thinking about it, even though I managed to never get it.

How many "scary" people around depends on the neighborhood, but really if you want to just let your kid run around and do whatever you're going to need to be ready to have discussions with them about drugs and child predaters and sexuality. And then they might not even get exposed to those things and you wonder if you made things worse making them freaked out about these things.

But there are benefits to the social skills kids learn running around on their own. And after all, I think after a certain number of generations of drug use and toxic car fumes, we'll adapt. Right? I've been reading about poverty in london in the 1800's, you know, just because, and life sucked eggs, but the amount of neighborly social support was huge. There was also a lot of domestic violence and child abuse. Extended family and neighbor interactions means more uncles and...

I think people learn to deal with these things but there are certain biological affects to adapting to these kinds of conditions and the kind of street smarts you need to adapt to potential violence, or sexual abuse or peer pressure, or using drugs etc etc... they shift functioning and make it harder to do well in, or care about, school.

Since everything in american society is about doing well in school or else you are a failed humanoid, no one wants their kid to wind up street smart or creative and genuis but unstructured and unable to give a crap about the demands of a structured environment.

So we train the kids to be obediant and structured all the time, and we always have medicines to ensure compliance if the other methods of control and submission don't work. We are making robots. Good robots, read the text and answer the questions, no don't tell the teacher that the way the question itself is framed is a false dichotomy and bullshit framework for assessing the real meaning behind the text--- you aren't being disciplined to think outside the box, you're being trained to sit and think outside the box exactly in the way we tell you. Then you'll be creative.
posted by xarnop at 8:34 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


My elementary school years were spent in Phoenix in the '80s. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a walled-off townhouse complex right on the neighborhood border between the rough, low-income houses and the nicer homes. My school was right next to what could be charitably called a slum. A couple of my schoolmates found a dead body in the ditch that ran between the school & that slum one morning before school.

I walked and/or bicycled to and fro every day, usually by myself, from first grade to seventh. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was taking four and five-mile bike rides around the city.

Now I'm in my 30s, I substitute teach in Seattle...and I'm continually amazed at the elaborate arrangements elementary schools have in this area for releasing students at the end of the day. I keep thinking, "Really? We've got to go through all this? They've got two legs. They've got eyes. Why can't they just get up and leave the classroom when the bell rings?"
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:35 AM on October 13, 2011


Acheman: "I have to say, I don't completely understand the conflation of 'play' and 'outdoor play'."

The conflation happens for a few reasons, I think.

Unstructured play inside is still good, but has some drawbacks compared to outside. Media consumption can provide a siren call to some kids, so is an attractive nuisance. If parents are inside, that's a distraction, too--they're right there for the entertainment of getting attention from. Inside also reduces the amount of novelty, which is an important thing--outside play provides more novelty of experience and happenings. There's a neat rock. Sally just scraped heck out of her knee from tripping over that branch. Run from that dog! Who's that kid over there? Etc. Inside reduces all that, and reduces the exercise of executive function by shrinking the possibility space, if you can dig it.

Plus there's just the outside is better, because outside moves the noise and crashing further away from exhausted grownup ears.
posted by Drastic at 8:36 AM on October 13, 2011


Teach her to use a map and compass, Azrael. Fifteen is old enough for Explorer Scouts, which I believe aren't part of the homophobic Mormon BSA.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:36 AM on October 13, 2011


My daughters are 7 and almost 9, and we live in an urban residential neighborhood in Minneapolis--as a reference point, think Noe Valley in San Francisco, only flat.

I feel pretty much great about sending them out around the neighborhood, especially since rather than being alone, they're alone-together. They spend a lot of time riding bikes and scooters, and they often go to the small playground a couple blocks away. It was a wonderful incentive for them to get good at telling time and managing their time as well, because I make them wear watches and expect them to be home at a certain time.

I've noticed that the other parents in the neighborhood aren't quite as lax as I am on this score--I'm fine with having my daughter walk a block home from her friend's house after playing, but I've noticed that the other mom is more comfortable if I have my daughter walk hers home after playing here (after which, she walks herself back home alone). Still, most parents are at least comfortable having their kids run in packs together without adults, and that's better than I've experienced in other places.

I am also 99.9% certain that the danger of getting hit by a car is more likely than getting kidnapped or abused by a stranger. A stranger is far more likely to simply ask them where the hell their mother is and why they're being allowed to roam the neighborhood unsupervised.

This summer we walked on most of our errands and I made them learn to navigate us to the various places we go, and back home. My goal is to be able to send them to the store for things by next summer.
posted by padraigin at 8:38 AM on October 13, 2011


Suicide rates quadrupled from 1950 to 2005 for children less than fifteen years and for teens and young adults ages 15-25, they doubled.

-Overall for all age groups the suicide rate has decreased in this time frame

-Suicide rates for these youth demographics rose from 1950 to the mid 1990s, but have been decreasing since then.

-Suicide rate for older adults have plummeted since 1950
posted by edgeways at 8:39 AM on October 13, 2011


I have to say, I don't completely understand the conflation of 'play' and 'outdoor play'. I spent wonderful hours playing as a child, but really very little of it was outdoors

In one of the articles Gray refers to (Clements, 2004 - An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play), there is this paragraph:
Outdoor play also offers children opportunities to explore their community; enjoy sensory experiences with dirt, water, sand, and mud; find or create their own places for play; collect objects and develop hobbies; and increase their liking for physical activity. In fact, research shows that between the ages of three and 12 a child’s body experiences its greatest physical growth, as demonstrated by the child’s urge to run, climb, and jump in outdoor spaces (Noland et al, 1990; Kalish, 1995; Cooper et al, 1999; Janz et al, 2000). Such vigorous movements and play activities can not only enhance muscle growth, but also support the growth of the child’s heart and lungs as well as all other vital organs essential for normal physical development. For example, active play stimulates the child’s digestive system and helps improve appetite, ensuring continued strength and bodily growth (Clements, 1998; Pica, 2003). Vigorous outdoor play activities also increase the growth and development of the fundamental nervous centers in the brain for clearer thought and increased learning abilities (Hannaford, 1995; Clements, 1998; Gabbard, 1998; Jenson, 2000).
Lately this sort of things has really been on my mind. As I drive on the highway or past a green area, I see rocks or areas and just think how great it would be to just lay there and pick around at the rocks and dirt. See what crawls by. See if I can find a four leafed clover. Look at the roots of a weed. If I grew up now though, I can't imagine I would ever have had the limited options that made me sit outside in the back yard until I was just looking around to see what was on and in the earth.

I think there are too many factors to really get at all the factors that are causing this, but ultimately a lack of choices at a young age, provided a relatively safe surrounding environment, and unless it's Saturday morning cartoons you're going to be out at the creek with family or friends, catching frogs and trying to find tadpoles.
posted by cashman at 8:39 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


here let me highlight that again:

-Suicide rates for these youth demographics rose from 1950 to the mid 1990s, but have been decreasing since then.
posted by edgeways at 8:40 AM on October 13, 2011


Teach her to use a map and compass, Azrael. Fifteen is old enough for Explorer Scouts, which I believe aren't part of the homophobic Mormon BSA.

I know there are a lot of Mormon Boy Scouts, but is there any other connection that causes you to say "Mormon BSA"?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:42 AM on October 13, 2011


From the second pdf linked by cashman above:

"One interesting finding is that creativity measures in childhood are three times more likely to predict lifetime accomplishment than is childhood IQ. By the way, creativity scores of youngsters were rising until the 1990s, when they began falling. That squares with the changes seen in parenting, play, and pushing children to achieve in ways that are designated by parents and that enhance parental status."
posted by rory at 8:42 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


jeffburdges: Teach her to use a map and compass, Azrael.

Not poo-pooing your advice, but I have an anecdote which makes me snicker at how successful it'll be:

Daughter got a job helping out at a daycare center once a week. It was further from our house than she's ever been before, but a pretty straight shot. The directions consist of three lines: turn here, turn here, turn here. We drove the route once to give her some visual cues, but it was on main roads that she's been on many, many times, and only two blocks from where her sister lives. I even drew a map -- my wife says I'm the best map-maker ever, so we were satisfied she could get to and from work on her bike, by herself.

Daughter got to work fine, using the map, but got horribly lost on the way home. She couldn't grasp following the map backwards. She's not stupid, she just can't visualize where she is. I'm sure it'll improve. It better, before she learns how to drive.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:42 AM on October 13, 2011


I'm surprised the article doesn't mention family structure as a factor. There are more single parents now than in 1955 or 1981 or the other times they're looking at. Even in two-parent households there are fewer stay-at-home parents. And families have fewer kids. Only children in single-parent households are just not going to have as many opportunities for unstructured play with other kids no matter how willing their parents are to let them.

I wonder how many of you with stories of playing outside all day had moms at home all day, and I wonder if there were plenty of other kids around with stay-at-home moms. Because my friends and I wandered my neighborhood as a kid too, but I won't let my kids do it. It has nothing to do with pedophiles or dangerous drivers, it's because there are no other kids around during the day and no parents home to watch out for them.

In my working class neighborhood, I am the only parent I know of who doesn't work, and the kids don't get home from daycare until dark. There are more kids around on weekends, but the things we used to do during the day as a kid (scouts, sports, errands) are mostly done on the weekends now, so there's still not a lot of time to spend running around together. Groups of kids are visible and audible to drivers, are bad targets for creeps, and have spares that can run and get help if somebody gets hurt or has a problem. And if there are several parents around in the neighborhood, there are lots of options for getting help. One or two kids who are the only people on the street for blocks and blocks and who have only one house in the neighborhood they can run to are in a much more dangerous situation.
posted by Dojie at 8:44 AM on October 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think it's hard for a parent that lives in the city to find a happy medium for their kids. You want to be practical, but not smother them. And I think everyone's kids are different, too.

All the parks in our area have one of these massive slide/climb/bridge things. My kids (both 3) will run up and down it for hours if we let them.

I've taken to finding and positioning myself by the only part of it that's 7' above the ground, where a kid can step off the thing into space. Because my son seems to be convinced he can fly. My daughter could probably be left alone on it with barely any supervision.
posted by zarq at 8:46 AM on October 13, 2011


I'm so glad I'm not a parent. I'd have a really hard time making decisions about my child's safety when taking in to account the kinds of things I did as a youth.

My kid would be told to go explore the woods. I'd give them a knife to carry with them everywhere, as well as a a flashlight so they could play in the dark.

I'd teach them how to light firecrackers, and then how to take firecrackers apart so that you can use the gunpowder to make something bigger.

I would make them wear eye protection, but that's only because the BB gun fights they'd probably get into with their friends would demand at least some small level of protection.

I'd show them how quickly fire could get out of control, and expect that any fires they made when having their adventures would be carefully tended.

I'd teach them what kinds of wild animals could be approached, and which should be avoided. But I wouldn't teach them all the animals, because some lessons you have to learn for yourself.

I'd make sure that they knew the differences between model rocketry and building a surface to air missile, and how to not have your missile fail in such a way that it is no better than a cardboard rocket.

They'd know that strangers shouldn't be trusted, but they could be observed from a distance. Ideally, with some home built surveillance gear that would allow them to be monitored and their movements carefully tracked and logged.

Most importantly, they'd know to not let anyone else know how much fun they were having, because it would almost assuredly get me and their mom into some real trouble.

Like I said; I'm way too irresponsible, I'd make a terrible parent.

But I'd make an excellent crazy uncle.
posted by quin at 8:46 AM on October 13, 2011 [24 favorites]


We have a lot of lost character development to make up for.

That's part of the problem - it's too late! You should be applying character development acquired during childhood, not making up for lost time.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:47 AM on October 13, 2011


The problem with free-range children is that all that foraging in the hills makes them skittish and more than a little tough when it comes time to herd and wrangle them at the end of the season.

Wait 'till Christmas time, that usually makes them migrate back.
posted by madajb at 8:48 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Another quote from that second pdf linked by cashman:

"Eating dinner with at least one parent on most nights predicts both adjustment and school performance for kids—for all kids, up and down the socioeconomic spectrum. The factor that most correlates with achievement is kids having dinner with parents five or more times a week."
posted by rory at 8:48 AM on October 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wait 'till Christmas time, that usually makes them migrate back.

If you wait until after Xmas, they are all fattened up from sugar and video game marathons.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:49 AM on October 13, 2011


We've discussed LDS influence on the Boy Scouts before. I believe the link is pretty well documented.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:52 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It has nothing to do with pedophiles or dangerous drivers, it's because there are no other kids around during the day and no parents home to watch out for them.

Really this.

I live near (as in next to) an elementary school with two backstops, soccer goals, and acres of flat grass, something that would have made 10-year old me, used to using the side of the house as the third base foul line, deliriously happy.

But there are never kids there. It's empty 95% of the time. The only time it's used is when the Pop Warner kids are out here doing suicides (which is another issue for another thread) or this time of year, pee wee soccer. That is to say, during adult organized activities.

I take my toddler daughter over to the playground behind the school, and half the time it's empty despite being basically the only park on this side of a largish street.

Lately though, some kids have popped up in the cul-de-sac the next road over, which (while forcing me to close the windows. heh) does give me hope that kids will be kids given the chance.
posted by madajb at 8:55 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it was made today, every kid in "The Goonies" would be wearing helmets.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:04 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


edgeways: "here let me highlight that again:

-Suicide rates for these youth demographics rose from 1950 to the mid 1990s, but have been decreasing since then.
"
Ah, so the article's juking the stats for impact. Unsurprised it's doing that, but disappointed nonetheless.

The article would behave better if it got more unsupervised play, I bet.
posted by Drastic at 9:11 AM on October 13, 2011


One interesting finding is that creativity measures in childhood are three times more likely to predict lifetime accomplishment than is childhood IQ. By the way, creativity scores of youngsters were rising until the 1990s, when they began falling.

Along with the suicide rate?

I think we're pushing correlation at this point about as far as it can go.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:17 AM on October 13, 2011


"It is hard to find groups of children outdoors at all, and, if you do find them, they are likely to be wearing uniforms and following the directions of coaches while their parents dutifully watch and cheer."

Why do I imagine this guy sipping tea with a monocle?

Bollocks. I must live in a progressive or poorer area, but I see kids doing nothing all day, with very very little parental supervision.

Overscheduling, overparenting, and overschooling is a real problem that I worry about a lot, but it doesn't compare to the problem of neglect.

The researchers found that compared to 1981, children in 1997 spent less time in play and had less free time. They spent 18 percent more time at school, 145 percent more time doing school work, and 168 percent more time shopping with parents.

I find it very interesting that there's no mention of television. I certainly agree that there are far less kids playing in the streets compared to when I was a kid, but how much of that is because of Nickelodeon (or YouTube)?

Lastly, I have a younger child, but pretty much every preschool I've ever seen pimps "play-based," "self-directed" "learning." fwiw. As kids get older, they need more structure (imo) to focus their energy. Particularly teenagers, so they can get off my lawn.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:33 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd make sure that they knew the differences between model rocketry and building a surface to air missile, and how to not have your missile fail in such a way that it is no better than a cardboard rocket.

Would you be my crazy uncle?
posted by Hoopo at 9:35 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


we have come to the conclusion that to protect children from danger and to educate them, we must deprive them of the very activity that makes them happiest.

All of the playgrounds here in California (and I'm sure in other places, too) are now being made out of plastic and foam . Even the ground. Really, they got rid of sand and woodchips and the ground is now made of spongy stuff. The slides aren't slippery metal anymore, either, they are plastic. So the kids slide down them at about .0002 miles per hour and the friction makes them stop about half way down, at which point they need to scoot themselves with their feet the rest of the way. I do feel sorry for today's kids who think this is normal.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:37 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you watch the nightly local news, it's nothing but stories that are designed to prey on every parent's worst fears about his or her child. There's a sex offender/pedophile around every bush, a car waiting at the next stoplight to deliberately run the light and squash your kid, and a loose pitbull lurking around the next corner to maul your kid to a pulp. It's all UNSAFE UNSAFE UNSAFE (when it's not UNCLEAN UNCLEAN UNCLEAN, which is a whole different category).

I'm not happy about my upbringing, but one advantage of having completely out-to-lunch neglectful parents was that I was free to roam with my pals wherever I wanted. I had some of the best adventures of my life that way -- going anywhere, doing anything. We hiked through canyons, played war, got dirty, threw rocks, looked at bugs and other crawly creatures, sprayed each other with hoses, got into fights, discovered what it was like to be a person in an autonomous body. This was a different time, etc., etc., so I'm not saying This Is How Kids Should Be Raised Today. Just kind of musing on my own past. Nostalgically.

I wonder how many of you with stories of playing outside all day had moms at home all day, and I wonder if there were plenty of other kids around with stay-at-home moms. Because my friends and I wandered my neighborhood as a kid too, but I won't let my kids do it. It has nothing to do with pedophiles or dangerous drivers, it's because there are no other kids around during the day and no parents home to watch out for them.

My parents just didn't give a shit. As mortifying as that sounds, I know I can't be the only person whose parents didn't. They let me run off whether there were other kids around or not. Not saying that's the way it should be. I hadn't thought about the angle of no-parents-at-home -- it makes a lot of sense, since there are so few parents who can afford to stay home nowadays -- just mentioning my own experience as a kid-roamer.

Anyhow, you say on the one hand that your concern has nothing to do with pedophiles and scary drivers and on the other hand that kids in groups are bad targets for pedophiles and scary drivers. So on some level you seem to be concerned about -- pedophiles and scary drivers.
posted by blucevalo at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


It really depends on the neighbourhood. Until about a month ago we lived in an area where there was one other kid my son's age (he's seven) who lived across the back fence, and said kid was more in to staying inside and playing on the Nintendo. We had a leafy park across the road but crazy traffic (corner, dumb drivers) and park was often full of litter, broken glass and dog crap. So while my son was happy to run around our substantial backyard and collect bugs or just go mental, only time he left the house was with me in tow, mainly due to traffic.

Here, we live in a quiet area. There are at least eight kids his age around, and when school is out (he is homeschooled) he is out with at least one other kid, or at another kid's house, or the small park across the road or the woods around. This is because a) the traffic is a LOT calmer so I am not worried about that b) there are more kids for him to hang out with so he is happy to go off and do stuff and c) I know if I can't find him at six o'clock he is almost definitely in a house within a 10 house radius and I will find him.

tl:dr - it's not all about parents being scared their kid is going to get abducted, or computers, or over-scheduling. It's often about traffic, and also about communities being more fragmented and less chance for kids to just meet up and hang out.
posted by Megami at 9:42 AM on October 13, 2011


Our son's elementary school has a huge playground with large boulders and woods - the swings etc are located amongst this terrain. A friend's daughter broke her arm rather badly falling off a rock, but it was just one of those things, and kids are still doing all sorts of crazy stuff at recess.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:43 AM on October 13, 2011


I feel sorry for kids today.

Kids today are fine. I feel sorry for kids of any day. It's not like they had it better a hundred years ago.

there are too many cars

This is likely the biggest change for me of the past 30 years or so. The deference to cars has ballooned. We used to play ball in the streets all the time. When a car, moving slowly, came down our street, we'd get out of the way.

No now one plays in the street because the street is for cars. Depressing. It's for US.

The cell phone trap is the other huge change. A lot of kids don't ever get to be truly free because their parents expect to be able to call them at any point.

One of the greatest things in the world for me when I was 10-15 was going somewhere where no one in the world knew where I was. Sure, terrifying for parents, but incredibly liberating for me.

I blame America's Most Wanted, Cops your local news, and the whole "OMG THEY'RE GOING TO KILL YOU AND YOUR KIDS!!!!!!!!!" entertainment-posing-as-reality that saturates this society.

Might as well blame all of TV (excepting perhaps Rick Steves)?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:45 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to play outdoors and away from the house most of the time as a kid. Back then, there were three TV channels, no remote, and cartoons were only shown on Saturday mornings from about 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. There were no such things as video games; Pong came out when I was in junior high. Space Invaders and Asteroids came out when I was in high school.
posted by Xoebe at 9:46 AM on October 13, 2011


Bollocks. I must live in a progressive or poorer area, but I see kids doing nothing all day, with very very little parental supervision.

Your profile location as San Francisco, which I would definitely consider a progressive area.

Here in the NC suburbs, I see kids playing in their front yards, and in the cul-de-sac at the end of the street. Never farther than scooter range of their front door, and certainly not the miles away that was common for me as a child. Parents are always close at hand, usually standing there observing.

My next-door-neighbor's kids just bounce a basketball at the bottom of their driveway. Bounce-bounce-bounce, sometimes for hours. All I can think of is the boy from A Wrinkle in Time.
posted by bitmage at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


All of the playgrounds here in California (and I'm sure in other places, too) are now being made out of plastic and foam .

To be fair, they are just reacting to lawsuits. Their hands are a bit law-tied. And it's still plenty easy

I have no fond memories of burning my thighs on a red-hot metal slide in the summer, but yeah, plastic slides are the worse. The static electricity is ridiculous.

If you watch the nightly local news, it's nothing but stories that are designed to prey on every parent's worst fears about his or her child. There's a sex offender/pedophile around every bush, a car waiting at the next stoplight to deliberately run the light and squash your kid, and a loose pitbull lurking around the next corner to maul your kid to a pulp. It's all UNSAFE UNSAFE UNSAFE (when it's not UNCLEAN UNCLEAN UNCLEAN, which is a whole different category).

Gee, it's almost as if they just want you to say home ... and watch more TV. It's like an ad for an ad for an ad.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:51 AM on October 13, 2011


Our suburban townhouse community has a nice little "tot lot" right across the (not very busy) street...but the only times I see any kids playing outside, they're running around (and yelling, always with the yelling) in the sad little "common area" outside our door. Which is also where the garbage goes.

The parents sit on their stoops, unwilling to let them out of their sight. Or, I guess, walk across the street with them.

I grew up in the 70s in a tiny town in semi-rural PA. We had to be home when the streetlights came on, and no crossing the "big street."
posted by JoanArkham at 9:52 AM on October 13, 2011


All of the playgrounds here in California (and I'm sure in other places, too) are now being made out of plastic and foam . Even the ground. Really, they got rid of sand and woodchips and the ground is now made of spongy stuff.

Ever get yanked off a swing and land knee-first in gravel? I would've been much happier back in '86 if there'd been spongy stuff.
posted by Lucinda at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


@mrgrimm

apparently "das racist" is fucking interminable
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:01 AM on October 13, 2011


Ever get yanked off a swing and land knee-first in gravel? I would've been much happier back in '86 if there'd been spongy stuff.

Oh yeah. I actually did a face plant once that knocked the wind out of me when my feet caught the ground on the way down. I would have loved spongy stuff.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:03 AM on October 13, 2011


Ever get yanked off a swing and land knee-first in gravel?

Clinker. Yes, fucking clinker, aka coal cinders. That's what they used to surface my elementary school playground. They brought them right out of the boiler room and dumped them out under the swings and monkey bars. I think I still find bits of that evil shit stuck in my elbows and knees!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:04 AM on October 13, 2011


Here in the NC suburbs, I see kids playing in their front yards, and in the cul-de-sac at the end of the street. Never farther than scooter range of their front door, and certainly not the miles away that was common for me as a child. Parents are always close at hand, usually standing there observing.

To be fair, your profile says you live in Cary, which to someone who grew up outside Apex, always seemed like ground zero for the kind of helicopter parenting/over organized activity participating stuff people are complaining about.

Just one of the many reasons that Cary is the worst place on Earth.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:12 AM on October 13, 2011


I have to say, I don't completely understand the conflation of 'play' and 'outdoor play'.

("Conflation of"? Do you mean "distinction between"?)

First off, the air inside your house can be 10x more polluted than the air outside.

10 reasons kids need fresh air

Second, an author named Richard Louv has postulated a theory about kids decreased access to nature and their increased rates of obesity, ADD, and depression.

Saving Kids from 'Nature Deficit Disorder'.

Lately this sort of things has really been on my mind. As I drive on the highway or past a green area, I see rocks or areas and just think how great it would be to just lay there and pick around at the rocks and dirt. See what crawls by. See if I can find a four leafed clover. Look at the roots of a weed. If I grew up now though, I can't imagine I would ever have had the limited options that made me sit outside in the back yard until I was just looking around to see what was on and in the earth.

Honestly, this is one of the biggest driving factors in raising my (young) kids right now: get them to green space. It's incredibly depressing how many child-centered places (daycare, schools) have ZERO green space.

To watch a child dig in the dirt, pick up her first worm, or climb a tree ... it's too wonderful for words.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:21 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are a fair number of kids running around my neighbourhood in Ottawa, even though it has no sidewalks and is surrounded by some major roads and has a fairly busy one running through it. I suspect, though, that it has a lot to do with the fact that it was built in the 1950s and is full of tiny bungalows, apartments, and duplexes. I know with our kids (2 and 4), there is only so long we can take with them bouncing off the walls inside our tiny house until we chuck them outside.

As with most above, our greatest worry is traffic. People like to use our neighbourhood as a shortcut around a major intersection.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:21 AM on October 13, 2011


Even the ground. Really, they got rid of sand and woodchips and the ground is now made of spongy stuff.
...
So the kids slide down them at about .0002 miles per hour and the friction makes them stop about half way down, at which point they need to scoot themselves with their feet the rest of the way.


The worst part about the spongy stuff is getting the crumbly bits out of clothes. Wood chips shake out, but that rubber is tenacious in pockets.

The plastic slides are all about technique. My toddler quickly figured out the key to speed is to hang your legs over the side and lean back. I have faith that other kids have cottoned on to the same thing.
posted by madajb at 10:22 AM on October 13, 2011


Just one of the many reasons that Cary is the worst place on Earth.

God, yes. You should hear me talk to my sister in London who's had to dodge riots, or my coworkers in Sendai who are still dealing with earthquake rubble and fallout - I tell them "Hah! You should have to live in Cary, then you'd understand suffering!"

FFS.
posted by bitmage at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2011


I really hope this article is just a bunch of BS. I grew up in an urban environment (the NYC borough of Queens, where I still live today) and I remember during the summer leaving in the morning, and not coming home until near dark. Our bicycles were constant companions, and one of our favorite activities was pointing to a spot on a map of NYC, and saying "let's see if we can ride our bikes there". This was in the 70s, when you were much more likely to get mugged or stabbed, and our parents never seemed overly concerned about what we were up to.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 10:28 AM on October 13, 2011


Do parents still buy bicycles for their kids? Around here the scooter is the dominant mode of transportation. I speculate that parents prefer it, as the child won't get far on one.

Riding a faux-BMX Huffy, sans helmet, jumping things in an unapproved manner. I was such a daredevil...
posted by bitmage at 10:43 AM on October 13, 2011


Most of us had sling shots, BB guns (and eventually .22's/shotguns). Our parents didn't see us from 8 in the morning until about a hour after it got dark (unless we got hungry).

We all survived the experience, had a great childhood, and developed wonderful imaginations.


In the interest of fairness, I'd like to hear from all those who did NOT survive their childhoods. I'm particularly interested in opinions from those who died from closed head injuries resulting from not wearing a helmet while biking or riding in the back of a pickup.
posted by LordSludge at 10:44 AM on October 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


I grew up in the suburbs of a suburb (parse that one out) and still played in ravines and creeks and rode my bike to the little downtown of our town nearly every day in the summer (it was a good 30 minute ride, one way). We were lucky enough to have a neighborhood pool (plus a city pool that I sometimes went to with friends who lived near it) and we all spent every day there in the summer (from age 12 you were allowed to be there without a parent; there was always a lifeguard). I climbed trees and played ghosts in the graveyard and sat on the driveway with friends, eating ice cream from the Dairy Queen.

I live in the suburbs now with my husband and two kids. My 11-year-old daughter was playing in the creek across the street from our neighborhood just a few weeks ago (Sept. 15, to be exact). The ravine walls are really high and close to the water and the girls were using the wall to balance while they were stepping from rock to rock. My daughter grabbed a rock that wasn't quite as attached to the wall as she thought it was and it fell on her foot from her shoulder height. It was a massive rock and it broke her second metatarsil right in half. Open fracture. She ended up needing surgery and we were in the hospital for three days.

What did she take away from this really traumatic experience? You shouldn't wear flip-flops in the creek, IVs really suck, and being in a cast for over a month sucks even worse because it's really, really hard to play outside.

She can't wait to get back out in that creek, to walk our (new) dog, to play with her friends, and to play ghosts in the graveyard. Parents need to chill out and let their kids be kids. Yes, bad things sometimes happen but the other alternative is a sterile, sad life.
posted by cooker girl at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


In the interest of fairness, I'd like to hear from all those who did NOT survive their childhoods. I'm particularly interested in opinions from those who died from closed head injuries resulting from not wearing a helmet while biking or riding in the back of a pickup.

Let me dig up the ouija board and we'll take care of that.
posted by madajb at 10:52 AM on October 13, 2011


I've lived in the same neighborhood since childhood, and have noticed a decline in kids playing outside. The area is a large cul-de-sac so the only vehicle traffic is from residents and the odd lost driver. As a kid, I used to play and run amok in the street, and we could easily see (and be seen by) any oncoming cars early enough to get out of the way.

Now, there are more cars and trucks. Kids are growing up and get cars of their own, and the housing market sucks so many of them and their new families choose to live with their parents. Sometimes the homeowner has more than one car. And most homes have had their carports and garages repurposed for extra storage space, which means these cars and trucks have moved to park in the driveways and curbs.

Not only have the number of cars and trucks increased, but they've gotten bigger. SUVs and pickups have become gigantic, and they're parked at the curb. Where once oncoming drivers could pass each other without interruption, now there's a queue to leapfrog from one driveway to the next in order to allow someone through (unless there's a car parked in front of the driveway due to a lack of space; there's more than a dozen houses here like that). And the size of these vehicles contributes to the fact that you can no longer see people on the sidewalk, as well as the very-real danger of someone stepping out onto the road from between Dodge Rams and Toyota Sequoias.

I've noticed, too, that with the decrease in the number of people outside, drivers have started to speed up through the streets because they're no longer expecting anyone on the road. I generally try to drive slow through these now-narrow streets to and from my house, but I have to honestly admit that nowadays, most of the time it's in order to watch for cars pulling out of the driveways from between the large vehicles at the curb.

My neighborhood isn't 100% large pickups and SUVs. We also have super-quiet sedans. So quiet and insulated that you don't even know they're there until they blur past you in a whoosh of air. Distracted drivers on their smartphones only adds to the risk.

Standing in my driveway, I literally cannot see the approach of any car from either direction, so the thought of my broodling playing outside beyond the now-fenced-in yard is a very real concern. I no longer trust drivers to pay attention, and I can't guarantee the kid will, either.

I'm fine with my child playing in the woods or in a park, and if they suffer a broken ankle from slipping into the creek or a sprain from falling from a tree, I'll pay the hospital bill and I'm sure we'll both have fun times. However, those are affordable risks, and cannot compare to a losing argument against two tons of aluminum and steel traveling at 20-30mph.
posted by CancerMan at 11:08 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the town I live in now, there is sort of a secret or unspoken crowd of parents to which I belong that lets their kids play in the woods, walk around town, go by themselves to a friend's house several streets away. We don't like to make a big deal about it as all the what we call the OMG parents will lecture us. We call ourselves the BFD parents. THe OMGs are everywhere. The PTA puts on clinics about bike safety and stranger danger and library protocol and how to get into a good college and and and. Whatevs. I just smile and watch my two teenage boys use the zip line I installed that requires a bailout right before you hit the tree to which the lower end is attached laughing when they wait just a little too long. They used to play one on one football which was essentially kill the guy with the ball.

My kids also got well into their teens without video games in our house. They thank me for it now. And, they are saving up their money to buy one which is a great lesson in itself.

My point is not that there is anything structurally different these days, but that the parents are emotionally different. That is to say, wicked freaked out with worry about all sort of low probability but high negative outcome events and worried about scheduling every friggin minute of the day.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:21 AM on October 13, 2011 [26 favorites]


When I was kid I lived in a neighborhood with one other kid my age (and there were all these free roaming dogs running around on the mile walk to her house, wolf dogs! AH!). I played outside by myself some then by about 11 I just sat in my room by myself every day. Looking back, what on earth was my mom doing? I have no idea what she was doing with herself. I don't even know what room of the house she was in. I know I went to the kitchen to get food sometimes and I don't even remember seeing her anywhere. Was she in her room too? Sometimes my dad was home, what was he doing? I had to eat dinner with her/them and then I could retreat into the room and read All Quiet on the Western Front and Descarte and Farenheit 451 and listen to Radiohead and cry. Finally I discovered the liquor cabinet, thank god. Make me see double Jack.

"I try to explain but the words come out strange and I don't know what I'm doing wrong. Cause I'm in my own world and you're not a part of it, I'm in my own world... it's falling apart..."
At least Ben Weasel understands. Yes I have friends, they're here in my tape player.

Clearly I turned out wonderfully, so I don't know what all this talk about free play with other kids is about. Isolation and misery worked great for me.

Oh ...wait...
posted by xarnop at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think parents have to model some of this behavior for kids. Not playing on the swings, necessarily, but other outdoor stuff. Our kids see my husband biking and hear about my solo letterboxing adventures and they know that outdoor activity is something we value as a family. We also just kick them out and tell them to go play. And we have dinner together every night so hopefully we're doing something right!

(we take them letterboxing too, but I have a lot of free time on my hands right now, so I've been getting into the woods a lot by myself)
posted by Biblio at 11:33 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never heard of letterboxing before, thanks Biblio! Sort of geocaching without the GPS part?
posted by bitmage at 11:40 AM on October 13, 2011


Kids play much too much today.
wait till they discover years from now no jobs, no college tuition, no health coverage, no future: then they can play all they want. or occupy this or that city.
posted by Postroad at 11:51 AM on October 13, 2011


I think parents have to model some of this behavior for kids.

Man, that is just too true. Half of what little kids do is mimicking. If Dad spends all weekend watching TV (even if he doesn't do it with the kids) that's what the kids will want to do.

David Sobel is also good reading here.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:19 PM on October 13, 2011


It's the perverts I feel sorry for.
They used to have such rich pickings but now they have to walk miles before they even see a kid, let alone one on their own.
posted by fullerine at 12:47 PM on October 13, 2011


Ever get yanked off a swing and land knee-first in gravel? I would've been much happier back in '86 if there'd been spongy stuff.

Gravel, sure, but there's a debate as to whether spongy stuff is better than sand. Sand has a certain amount of give when you're running and fall down with forward momentum, whereas while spongy stuff might cushion an impact it doesn't let you slide so well. So skinning knees is still an issue. But not as bad as gravel. We never had that on a playground, but it was always on the baseball infields. Which made the idea of sliding into second or third terrifying.

There were no such things as video games; Pong came out when I was in junior high.

I was in the third or fourth grade when we got a Collecovision. My Dad's basement became the Zaxxon Flight Academy.
posted by Hoopo at 12:48 PM on October 13, 2011


It's the perverts I feel sorry for.
They used to have such rich pickings but now they have to walk miles before they even see a kid, let alone one on their own.


Pish, posh, they do what everybody does for everything these days; they order them on the internet for home delivery.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:49 PM on October 13, 2011


I worry about this a lot. One the one hand I'm helping to bring a children's museum to our town and I fight for a play-based curriculum in our younger grades (partial success!) and more recess (no success! so far!). We designed our yard to be full of exploration adventures for our little ones.

On the other hand, when my toddler is self-entertaining with his trucks or duplo while I sit on the couch reading (or surfing Metafilter), a tiny part of my brain is screaming, "GO ENRICH THAT CHILD! YOU'RE MISSING CRUCIAL BRAIN DEVELOPMENT TIME!"

I need to bitchslap that part of my brain on a pretty regular basis.

Another factor is that in the 60s nearly 2/3 of households had children; today that number's around 1/3. The reason I know that is because it has a lot of implications for tax referenda for schools. But it also means that in any given neighborhood there are far fewer children to form a wild pack of kids, provide safety in numbers, outdoor unstructured and child-led play, etc. The dearth of stay-at-home parents also means the neighborhood might not refill with children until around 5:30, when they get home from aftercare, and by then it's already dark in the winter and the bigger kids have homework.

I have no particularly brilliant ideas on how I'll handle it as they get older. I guess I'll have to keep bitchslapping the anxiety-and-enrichment part of my brain to let them roam at least as far as I was allowed to.

"She couldn't grasp following the map backwards. She's not stupid, she just can't visualize where she is. I'm sure it'll improve. It better, before she learns how to drive."

My best friend was like this well into her 20s, but she eventually sort it out and now navigates even foreign countries with ease. She could drive from her house to my house, and from school to her house, but not from school to my house. So she'd drive home and then to my house so she wouldn't get lost. Seriously.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:50 PM on October 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


One of the greatest things in the world for me when I was 10-15 was going somewhere where no one in the world knew where I was. Sure, terrifying for parents, but incredibly liberating for me

This times a bazillion. For me it started one day around age six, when my family was visiting (by car) another family who had a kid my age, and he and I were playing outside, and I said something like "you know, I think we could walk to my house from here." And we did. Boy did I ever get a spanking, but from that day, my friends and I were pretty much all over town on our own, and they were very, very happy times.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:04 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


and more recess (no success! so far!)

God bless you for fighting for recess. My wife is a teacher (second grade) at a school where they routinely take away recess from whole classes as a punishment, and it drives me crazy, even from afar. You want to say "the kids are running around and yelling? Then by all means tell them they can't go outside today. THAT WILL FIX EVERYTHING"
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:06 PM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


The trouble with outdoor free play is that there's no money to be made off it.
posted by mantecol at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2011


I really hope this article is just a bunch of BS.

I wish it was, but it isn't. Parents have become so damned frightened of every little thing, they don't let their kids out of their sight for a second, because "what if".

I have had CPS sicced on me for allowing my kids to do things like ride their bikes to their music lessons 2 miles away or go to the park by themselves. And they were in HIGH SCHOOL!
posted by MissySedai at 1:40 PM on October 13, 2011


From the article:
"children in 1997 spent ... 168 percent more time shopping with parents"
Is this mall culture, or something else?
posted by doctornemo at 2:03 PM on October 13, 2011


My kids have two parents at home. They frequently stay home with one of us while the other goes shopping for groceries or clothes or school supplies or whatever. If it were just me, they would have to go with me every single time. They would get to 168% more time shopping very very quickly.
posted by Dojie at 2:12 PM on October 13, 2011


My wife is a teacher (second grade) at a school where they routinely take away recess from whole classes as a punishment

As a former (and perhaps someday soon, future) educator, all I can say is that is fucked up and incompetent, a crime, even.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:34 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My wife is a teacher (second grade) at a school where they routinely take away recess from whole classes as a punishment

That's kinda like taking away a bedtime story from your toddler because she doesn't want to stay in bed and go to sleep. Even if effective, it hurts YOU as much or more as it does her.

Uh, speaking of which, got any techniques to keep a little three-year-old who doesn't want to sleep in bed ... ?
posted by mrgrimm at 2:49 PM on October 13, 2011


From the article:
"children in 1997 spent ... 168 percent more time shopping with parents"
Is this mall culture, or something else?


I think that's a consequence of more parents working full-time jobs and taking their kids with them to go shopping after work, i.e. if one parent stays at home, he can shop during the day while the child is at school. Maybe?
posted by mrgrimm at 2:51 PM on October 13, 2011


My wife is a teacher (second grade) at a school where they routinely take away recess from whole classes as a punishment, and it drives me crazy, even from afar.

I...I just...how...what?!
posted by madajb at 3:32 PM on October 13, 2011


Look on the bright side. According to the Peak Oil people on Charlie Stross' blog, in 20 years the kids will have to be put to work from age 6 on the communal farms, so they'll get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Also, no cars, so no traffic worries. They'll even exercise their imaginations by telling stories about the mythical "video games".

So really, this is a temporary problem.
posted by happyroach at 4:36 PM on October 13, 2011


My wife is a teacher (second grade) at a school where they routinely take away recess from whole classes as a punishment

I honestly read this the first time and thought "I can't believe the teacher's unions let them get away with punishing teachers that way."

And though I realize my mistake, the adults are the ones being punished here. Yes, it's no good for the kids, but it's the stupidity that makes me so mad.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:58 PM on October 13, 2011


Houstonian: "that the games have adults who make sure everything is fair and nobody gets hurt (emotionally or physically)."

haaaaaaaaahahahahahahaha. Yeah. Right. I was badly bullied (both emotionally and physically) to the point of suicide in high school, and much of it happened with teachers or the bus driver around. Hell, in one of the incidents the teacher STARTED the shitty rumor about me. (She was basically forced to leave the school.) I went to a very small school where our graduating class was about 60 kids and everyone knew everyone else's business, and most of the teachers hadn't grown out of the high school stuck-up clique-iness. The teacher can't see everything either. If I dropped something and dared to pick it up, someone would stomp on my hand. And other times they contribute in other ways. I was fat and called a cow. One day I had an itch on the roof of my mouth. I used my tongue to rub it, and the teacher asked what I had in my mouth. When I said nothing, she said "we do not chew on nothing like cows." Oh boy, took me weeks to live that one down.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:00 PM on October 13, 2011


Play for me as a child was: a garage filled with sort-of working bikes I'd work on with my Father's tools and ride as far as I possible could. Eventually, they'd break down and then the fun would REALLY start - trying to get back home!

Play for me as an, "Adult" is, well - I own those sort-of working bikes now and "as far as I possibly could" usually involves countries crossed and a few weeks off here and there.

Kids these days seem to be being prepped for whatever the iPhone is going to be.
posted by alex_skazat at 7:21 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Mean World Syndrome is all around me. I'm not sure my kid will have a childhood like I did. My fondest memories of being a kid was as a pre-teen taking the bus to the nearest city and hanging out at the mall.

'course I could have gone to an Ivy League school with the money I spent at the arcade.
posted by hot_monster at 8:00 PM on October 13, 2011


This blog is by a guy who lives one block over from us. He's trying hard to make a neighborhood where you can just send your kids out to play. And I'm glad for it. I hope someday to be able to just send my kids outside to play.

The younger one has to learn how to walk first.
posted by ambrosia at 8:48 PM on October 13, 2011


I try not to do a full hover, but a semi halfassed hover. And so far my two are still alive.

We live in a townhome complex with a few other kids in various houses. My 3 and 4 yr old always want to be outside with the other kids running around, so I let them. Sometimes ill go sit on the porch and read a book while they play. But most times I open the windows and do housework. I go check on them every few minutes and they know the boundaries I have set down.

I do worry about them being taken, which is ridiculous but it's there. However, I do know that every one within a 3 block radius knows who they are or has an inkling of what do if they are found with someone else. So it's basically safe.

Now to make me not sound awful for letting mere babes play alone out front: My 4 yr old (almost 5) is a very by the book child. He loves responsibility and keeping tabs. So I unleash him with his very carefree sister and have no worries. She steps one little hair outta boundaries and he's all but calling the police to come keep her in line.

We joke he's going to be an insurance salesman and his sister will be a mountain climber.
posted by Sweetmag at 9:56 PM on October 13, 2011


Nothing is all good or bad. I was a free-range kid and I loved it. I had an area with a radius of about 5 kilometres to play in. There weren't many kids and often I played alone, and I did a lot of thinking. Some of those thoughts are still with me as an adult as a plaything and not in a childish. I was very much me, in those alone times and it was good.

However, I was preyed on by a couple of predators (no need for detail), which changed the way I parented. The grief that came about from these incidents was so painful (unlike falling down a hill and grazing myself) that I could see no good in this happening to a child of mine.

As a single parent, I did live in a very low SES street for a while, and there were lots of kids around of all ages, to play with mine, they had roaming area (perhaps not as wide as mine, but I had been a country kid, and this was the city), and it was a good thing for my little sprogs. But after moving a couple of times more, the reality of the modern day set in - there was nowhere that the kids could go and be sure of meeting with their friends. They were of the few that walked to school. Most of the rest were driven by their parents and too far out to walk to. If there wasn't an event, they were at home. By this time, they were too old to find the park appealing by themselves, and simply walking up and down the streets to discover their (new) home town's little idiosyncrasies did not appeal to them as much as the Sims or Civilization.

I wished they could have had the freedom that I did, but I would have liked the opportunity to connect with like-minded souls across the internet like they did. Things change. Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do, you can't do it the way you did it as a kid, you can't bring your kid up like you were, because nobody else is doing it and you need a community's co-operation to share this.
posted by b33j at 4:19 AM on October 14, 2011


I have a job that is tangentially related to designing playground (coworkers do, I don't). About the rubber and the sand and wood chips - it's not there to prevent skinned knees or broken arms or sprained ankles, and won't. It's there to prevent catastrophic brain injuries.

The depth required gets calculated based on the height of the play equipment. The wood chips and sand are much cheaper than the rubber, but require daily maintenance to keep them deep enough in the areas where they get worn away (bottom of slides, below swings, etc). So if your maintenance budget is low, you get the rubber. Rubber has other advantages: it's easy to locate and remove broken glass and it's easier to clean off when it gets used as a bathroom by animals or people. The high cost of at least the rubber safety surface is why play equipment is often shorter now, since shorter fall distances don't require as much force absorption.
posted by sepviva at 4:45 PM on October 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


I have no fond memories of burning my thighs on a red-hot metal slide in the summer

That actually happened to me at our local tennis/swim club. It was one of those public clubs but the facilities were nice with lots of local kids and parents. We all knew the slide was dangerous at certain times when the sun was directly on it, and so us kids would avoid it but dare each other all the same. I got pushed by another kid and slid down on bare skin on my legs - was meant to be playful and not harmful, but I got 2nd degree burns from it. Nobody got sued, although it required a trip to the ER and treatment, but nothing outlandish. In those days (1970s) medical bills were not so astronomical. The club painted the slide white as a response, which worked fine. Unfortunately it was never as slippery as it used to be but there were no burns after that (and it was still way better than the plastic slides). I think I was the first and last one to be burned on it ...

As far as playing, I had free reign in my neighborhood as a kid and sometimes would ride my bike for miles. I was always a bit of a loner but did have a number of friends in the area. But a lot of times I preferred to explore on my own. Eventually my desired destination on these rides became a local video game arcade, which was a couple miles away, so it wasn't all outside all the time ...
posted by krinklyfig at 7:39 PM on October 14, 2011


Oh yeah. I actually did a face plant once that knocked the wind out of me when my feet caught the ground on the way down. I would have loved spongy stuff.

Our school playground was a vast expanse of bare, hard ground with some jungle-gyms and swings near the buildings. We also had a number of play structures made out of giant tires bolted together. One of the jungle gyms had cement underneath. I do recall a number of injuries but nothing too traumatic, mostly cuts and scrapes and the occasional tooth knocked out or sprained ankle. It all seemed like part of being a kid. You play when the adults let you, sometimes you get hurt but mostly you have fun. However, I can see how some of these structures weren't really safe and could use improvement in that respect. But plastic and foam everything still seems a bit excessive and not nearly as much fun.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:49 PM on October 14, 2011


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