What's outside?
March 7, 2007 4:23 AM   Subscribe

Leave No Child Inside
Are children disconnected from the natural world? With the rise of endless variations of in-home entertainment, parents are finding it harder to get kids to play outside, get muddy, and explore nature. Are we inadvertently creating yet another childhood malady (Nature Deficit Disorder)?
posted by moonbird (55 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are we inadvertently creating yet another childhood malady (Nature Deficit Disorder)?

Yep. And someone will give it a three letter acronym, someone else will come up with a drug to treat it, people will turn up on Ask.Metafilter asking if their kids have it, and everyone will say yes. World keeps spinning.

Oh, I look back at your post and see that someone has already given it a three-letter acronym. Heh.

Seriously, though, I think they have a very, very good point. However, I don't know how we would ever start to address it, since we've been creating a world where there aren't many places left outside for kids to go exploring.
posted by Jimbob at 4:32 AM on March 7, 2007

Next, on CNN: Why going outside can KILL YOUR CHILDREN.
posted by psmealey at 4:36 AM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I should note that, from age 8 to 18, I was in the Scouts.

Now I know the Scouts have bad connotations these days, particularly the American branch (I get the impression they're universally associated with being anti-athiesm and anti-gay. I sure didn't see any of that here down under). But everone I know who went through the Scouts - people who still make up a good proportion of my friends to this day - grew up and turned out well. Turned out creative, and interested in life, and willing to try new things and new challenges. There's got to be something about running around forests and paddling in canoes as a kids that does something to you.
posted by Jimbob at 4:37 AM on March 7, 2007

Somebody who is not very articulate but is very good with his or her hands will be very happy in the garden and will gain in prestige in the class community.

Oh come on, have these people ever really been in school?

`I used to think that quiet kid was weird, but it turns out he's an awesome gardener! Let's hang out with him!'

Apart from that, I agree. Get out into the world and get your hands dirty. You don't need to love everything in the great outdoors, but you should have some concept of their existence.
posted by tomble at 4:39 AM on March 7, 2007

I propose using genetic algorithms to find the optimal strategy for child rearing.
posted by srboisvert at 4:49 AM on March 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

I think it goes beyond not having any time outside. My nieces, nephews and practically all of my friends kids all suffer from not having any unstructured, unsupervised play time. It differs severely from how I remember my own childhood: neighbor kids would hang out, either inside or outside, from the time homework/dinner was done, until the street lamps were lit. It seemed to me that this was important for socialization, learning how to deal with each other with no authority figures around, etc.

Nowadays, it seems you have either kids playing video games with all their free time, hours on end, or else attend structured and strictly bracketed "play dates", which largely more like an excuse for the adults in tow to get some social time in with each other than it is to benefit the kids (YMMV).

I can't really say if it's better or worse than what we knew as kids (though I do have an opinion), but it seems strange and different, and I wonder what kind of an impact it will have on this generation of children's emotional development and socialization.
posted by psmealey at 4:49 AM on March 7, 2007

As a child I lived on the edge of a forest. My yard was practically a nature museum. I got to explore and play and climb trees and observe plants and animals, bugs and weird fungi.

I feel so sorry for today's kids.
posted by konolia at 5:17 AM on March 7, 2007

My children, ages three and six, have structured outdoor playtime unless they're playing in our fenced-in backyard, which is daily. We go to the beach, State parks, nature trails, etc. All supervised of course, because of their ages. I am hoping this will change dramatically as they age. I want my kids to explore the outdoors and run with a pack of kids unsupervised.

At six I was roaming our small neighborhood mostly unsupervised. My childhood was spent outdoors with a pack of other children. The only television I watched were holiday specials and The Muppets.

I am fearful that my kids won't have a similar outdoor experience that I had. My six-year-old is saving for an iPod, and they're both proficient at Playstation 3. I can relate to the mother in the NY Times article. Some days I have to kick them out. When they attempt to wander in, I kick them out again.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:18 AM on March 7, 2007

Well, I'm considered the "older brother" of the group of kids around here. I'm old enough (19) I can throw my weight around and break up fights and watch for cars and the like, but I still like to dunk on the other kids, and play DH for whoever's batting.

Out of the kids I know, one is in High School, the rest elementary, and all except me have cell phones. At least they still play every week or so.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 5:30 AM on March 7, 2007

Outside... what?

Oh well. Back to WoW.
posted by mr_book at 5:36 AM on March 7, 2007

It's winter, and it's sub-freezing. Even I don't want to go outside.
posted by fungible at 5:50 AM on March 7, 2007

Plate of shrimp. A couple of coworkers and I were just talking about this. One of the coworkers grew up in India and was saying that as a kid it wouldn't have occurred to him to do anything BUT play outside, even though staying inside and watching TV was an option. I grew up in suburban Chicago in the 70s and said that the same was true of my youth. We played outside because there were enough kids in the neighborhood that it was the most fun way to spend time. The third coworker grew up in the inner city of Chicago and made an interesting observation. He said that as a kid, his parents wouldn't allow him and his siblings to play outside. It just wasn't safe. It's something I had never considered. It's all fine and good to say parents should encourage their children to play outside. At the same time, we need to recognize that having the option to safely do so is largely a privilege of white suburbia.
posted by puddnhead at 5:55 AM on March 7, 2007

But puddnhead, isn't it the parents in white suburbia who are so afraid of everything that they don't let their kids outside? Where I live there's tons of kids wandering around ('urban' Maine) and biking all the time. And when I lived in Brooklyn the kids were always on the stoops and such.

I think it's the parents who are affluent enough to worry about the stuff they cover on CNN who are making their kids lead such structured lives.
posted by miss tea at 6:10 AM on March 7, 2007

A couple of years ago I was talking with a stranger at a dinner party about the Cecilia Zhang abduction, and remarked that I felt it was sad that these cases got plastered all over the media and made people feel as though it's terribly unsafe to let your kids out of your sight for even a few minutes, when in fact most child abductions are carried out by someone close to the child. Kids should be allowed to be kids, doing their own thing away from the prying eyes of adults, I said.

She looked at me like I was the biggest moron imaginable and said "You don't have children! You don't understand!" Which is true. I don't have kids, and if I ever do it's entirely possible that I'll see pedophiles lurking on every street corner. But I hope not. People like that are teaching their kids that the world is to be feared, and avoided as much as possible. I don't have the answer, but I think it is regrettable that so many kids today are growing up bubble-wrapped and without the memories I have of roaming and exploring on my own with nothing more than the vague command "Be home for dinner!" hanging over my head.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:11 AM on March 7, 2007

miss tea> It's entirely possible. I'm so far removed from the world of kids and suburbia that I have no idea what's going on there these days. My coworker though, was from a decidedly not affluent area (just South of Pilsen if you're familiar with Chicago). He grew up playing inside because his parents had very legitimate concerns for his safety. Does that mean there aren't overprotective parents in the burbclaves that need to loosen up and let their kids roam free? Of course not. At the same time, it's worth being cognizant that not all parents have an equal opportunity to make that choice.
posted by puddnhead at 6:19 AM on March 7, 2007

Thanks for posting this, moonbird. It's an interesting topic, and part of the even larger issue of how our processed lifestyles continue to separate us from the natural world's seasonal cycles and complexity of form and behavior. Writing on this topic addresses the ways in which our divorce from the natural world can be seen in the lives of children.

The term "Nature Deficit Disorder" is certainly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I think the author was clever in using it. For one thing, it grabs the attention of the stereotypical anxious parent: "A new disorder! Does my kid have it? Must read!" while at the same time mocking those priorities (he's not really suggesting it's a behavioral disorder, he's asking the question 'what if we as a society could decide that lack of exposure to nature was as serious a problem as lack of attention in the classroom?').

His arguments in the book are persuasive. Drawing on a solid body of cognitive research, he describes how exposure to the natural physical world helps children develop intellectual concepts such as cause and effect, cyclical and linear systems, diversity of form, and abilities such as classification, and comparison. From the creative standpoint, nature play stimulates creativity, as those of us who can instantly close our eyes and visualize the rich purple of a crushed pokeberry spread across the back of our hands can attest. Playing with flowers and leaves, building with bark, moss, sticks, and rocks, and observing the variety of color, sound, and shape in nature lays important groundwork for artistic thinking. In the realm of problem-solving, nature play can really build strategic thinking and teamwork skills. Picture yourself standing at the edge of a small creek or stream with two or three friends, trying to manipulate a several-hundred-pound, twenty-foot long branchy log across it to create a bridge. Or crouching in a small circle, sketching in the dirt with a stick, as you argue with your friends what would make the best design for your fort - lean-to or wigwam shape.

Everything that happens in childhood develops skills. The question to ask is: are we developing the skills we want? Or are we developing skills that predispose children to a lifetime of isolated, mediated activities that are either structured and formal (like soccer practice) or solipsistic, with a short feedback loop (like computer games)?

I, too, had a childhood that was largely spent roaming the outdoors, and without doubt it built some very rich experiences which I still draw on. And I was not privileged to grow up in the mountains or on a farm - I grew up in busytown New Jersey. But kids played independently in backyards, parks, and wooded vacant lots on most days and most weekends. Outside was where kids belonged. My parents contributed greatly by taking us frequently to the beach for evening walks and summer swimming. I still use beaches as meditative locations when I need to think quietly. I, too, participated in Scouting - mainly for the camping trips, which seemed nothing but fun - whooping it up in the woods with my best girlfriends, away from siblings and parents. My grandfather was a gardener and animal observer who got me very involved in watching and listening to birds and in working in the garden. I wouldn't trade the childhood I had for the best media library or set of structured classes and playgroups in the world.

Kurt Buhlmann's comment about revisiting his childhood neighborhood, from the "play outside" link, is just really poignant: "...when I tried to take Tracey on the marsh trail, I realized something was wrong. There was no trail, and no indication that kids played in the woodlot. No tree forts were seen, and no bicycles were lying at the edge of driveways. On this nice sunny Saturday afternoon, we saw no kids outside...It was becoming clear that the outdoor opportunities were still available, but the kids were not taking advantage of them."
posted by Miko at 6:20 AM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was a Boy Scout, and aside from having to wear my uniform and do fund-raising drives at the local mall, it was great. I have had plenty of opportunities to put what I learned as a scout to use: tying knots, starting fires, treating shock, being courteous and helpful to strangers... the list goes on.

One of the kids in my scout troop grew up to be a murderer. I remember during our regional jamboree, camping in the woods on the grounds of a nearby army base, he snuck up on my friend (an eventual Eagle scout), who was taking a shit in the woods, and jabbed him in the ass with a stick. Not just a troublemaker, the boy was psycho.

When he was a senior in high school, he went to a local convenience store to rob it in order to get money to support his stepfather's prison drug habit. His ex-girlfriend was behind the counter, so he stabbed her 36 times and, as she was bleeding to death under the counter, he helped a customer, claiming to have cut himself on the deli slicer. He was picked up by the police an hour later at a friend's house.

I don't blame scouting for that kid at all; sure, he had a fucked up family life, but he was a monster to the other kids in the troop. Of course, my troop was shut down a few years later after allegations of sexual impropriety from one of the leaders, but there are plenty of good troops with good leaders teaching kids valuable skills (so what if you never plan to camp, ever. The lifesaving and CPR courses are excellent, and not taught in school). Tarring all scout troops with that brush is like saying all Catholic schools and charities are dens of predatory perverts.

I love camping, and I probably would if I hadn't been a Boy Scout, but I'm a better camper because of it. And a better judge of character, too: I knew that kid was crazy all along, but he managed to fool his teachers and friends. They weren't in his scout troop, though.
posted by breezeway at 6:26 AM on March 7, 2007

I dearly hope that, tounge in cheek or not, that this movement sticks. Mostly because one the wife and I start having kids I want to be able to toss this "syndrome" at my bosses and get time off to play with my kids ;-)
posted by BeerGrin at 6:27 AM on March 7, 2007

pddnhead: yes, it's worth recognizing, but I agree that the problem is actually more severe in middle and upper-class families. There is still more outdoor play in poorer neighborhoods than in more affluent ones -- I won't even say 'urban/suburban,' becuase I live in a densely populated urban neighborhood that is nonetheless affluent, and the kids are not playing outside here, though they are in a very siilarly designed but less desirable and poorer side of town.

The point Luov might argue is that if the middle- and upper-class kids aren't growing up with a positive experience of outdoor and nature play, will they grow up to consider it a societal imperative? Will they write it into future school curricula? Will they donate to and lead Scouts and 4-H? Will they advocate for public parks and urban gardens, so that the poorer kids and adults of the future will still have access to nature play? Or will they design cities and create programs for indoor, electronically mediated and climate-controlled activities, taking away one of the few areas in which the poor lead the rest of us - social outdoor play?

There are some neighborhoods that pose too many dangers for young children to be outside, unsupervised, it's true. But to change that, you need a social ethic that says outdoor spaces are important, and helps to control their safety better. Luov is saying we're actually undermining that ethic.
posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on March 7, 2007

Where I live there's tons of kids wandering around ('urban' Maine) and biking all the time.

Miss Tea, I do believe we live in the same neighborhood. One of the things I love about where I live is that we can see roving gangs of kids on bikes (some of them doing wildly unsafe things, like riding double on the handlebars) roaming our neighborhood, playing baseball in the street and generally running wild. I hope my son will have a similar "gang", although I suppose that a number of the houses on the street will need to sell to younger families first for him to do it.
posted by anastasiav at 6:43 AM on March 7, 2007

It's funny; I intended my scouting comment to describe more my childhood outdoors, gamboling through the fields, messing around in culverts, playing in the trees that separated my subdivision from the main road. But I derailed myself. I guess with a story like that, it's easy. Sorry.

What I meant to say is that there might ought to be a balance. I played indoors plenty, and outdoors plenty, and did homework and practiced violin and had all sorts of shit to do, because my parents devoted time and energy to making sure I did all these things. They understood that their jobs were a means to having a family, and employers knew that back then, too. I think nowadays people's lives are likely to be ruled by their jobs and they are often as panicked at home as they are at work. They know that they have to spend time with the kids, but they get home too late or just don't want to take or send the kid outside. A lot goes into that and I'm doing a poor job of explaining myself.

But I guess as our environment gets hotter and less inhabitable, everybody will have to spend more time inside. Maybe these indoor children are an unconscious reaction to global warming. Maybe it's for the best. They'll be used to living in bubbles. They won't miss the environment when the environment is no more.
posted by breezeway at 6:48 AM on March 7, 2007

employers knew that back then

I really don't think they did. In fact, before the impact of the women's movement, most employers were downright hostile to family obligations - the assumption was that one parent was in the workplace, and one at home, so your 9-5 hours belonged totally to your employer. In corporate environments, it was career death to say something like "I have to leave at 3:15 to take Josh to music lessons, but I'll make up the time." Until the mid-80s, it was unheard of and could really impact your promote-ability. Maybe you are young enough to have been brought up after the change.

But if not, one thing that may have been different was that expectations for working life under the old social contract were quite a bit lower. You weren't necessarily supposed to derive satisfaction from your job, or a sense of personal meaning, and you weren't supposed to manage your own career - your managers did that for you based on your performance. So it may have been that the personal priorities of parents were freer to focus on the family rather than on career advancement.

Having two parents work outside the home has contributed to this. I certainly had music lessons, scouting, gymnastics, and Little League after school when my mother was mostly home during the day. Meanwhile, she got a degree in the evenings after my dad was home from his 9-5 job to hold the fort. Then when she returned to work, family scheduling became far more challenging. As a latchkey kid from the age of 12, I know my folks felt better with the idea that I was inside the house after school, and they could get me on the phone. It's about the same time that my outdoor activities started to change - less running around after school, more full-day experiences with friends on weekends like hiking or going to the beach or going camping with Scouts.
posted by Miko at 7:07 AM on March 7, 2007

Anastasia, I think you're right! How fun. I love the handlebar-riders, but I do cringe when I see them.

The funniest aspect of all of the kids is that if you asked any of the parents if they worried about their kids running free, they'd look at you like you're crazy. So many of the families here are refugees from seriously dangerous places, Portland must seem like a wonderful haven. Except when it is 0 degrees, of course. /grumble

I grew up running around pretty freely, and definitely got in some trouble, but I learned how to take care of myself. I also spent a lot of time camping with my parents and learned a lot of those outdoorsy things.

Being a fairly bookish child I also spent a lot of time reading in trees. The best of both worlds!
posted by miss tea at 7:17 AM on March 7, 2007

NATURESTOLTM - for restoring junior's nature balance. Side effects include giddiness, muddy clothes, insect bites and sunburn. Use as directed
posted by caddis at 7:22 AM on March 7, 2007

Great post!

I guess I don't see this because we have a "roving" gang of children in my neighborhood. My 10 y/o son is ALWAYS out with his friends, mostly 7-11 year old boys with the occasional female hanging around. Riding bikes, emulating wrestlers, building ramps and forts, just like we did. Thay will make an entire Saturday revolve around an old car tire taken from the garbage next the curb on our street.

The takeaway is this: those kids are only on my street when their dad's have them for the weekend. Weekday afternoons are a bit different. The kids my son plays with are at their mom's house during the week. Divorce, nasty stuff!

For my 14 y/o daughter, things are a bit different. She does not have any friends living in our block or the next. And...she's too cool to go out and play. So she spends her time in the back yard playing basketball or soccer with whatever friend can come over to the house that afternoon. We camp alot, and we take many canoe trips and go to a camp in Mississippi that has a creek to fish, build dams and make campfires and ride 4-wheelers. We are shopping land to buy there (in Ms.) so that we may run like hell from the city every weekend that we can.

For those who say throw your kids out. Make them go "play", then you need to feel my aprehension that I feel when that 14 y/o blonde haired girl walks to the corner store, then watch the 4-5 boys aged, 14-17 y/o, with baggy pants and 2XXL white tees' start walking down the street in that direction.

It takes every thing I have to only watch and not follow her. I brought her up knowing it's o.k. to do what you gotta do to make sure no one puts a hand on you. My 14 y/o daughter is tougher than most of the boys on our street. For a good reason, as a 40 y/o smoker with a nasty risk gene, I don't plan on being around forever. I have to prepare my wife and kids for life w/o me and, not let them know why.

It may take trampolines, (I fought that insurance hazard for a few years) and finally had no fight left in me. I gave in and it's been no problem at all. Then we added an above ground pool that we set up every March and take down before the kids birthdays in October when the weather turns to our version of winter. We play soccer in our yard, we practice softball. Play frisbee. When I get home from work at 5:00pm, I look for my kids to come out in the yard and play with me. The basketball goal keeps them in the back yard bunches too.

I always said that I wanted my home to be like my parents home. The place where all the kids were instead of wondering what are they doing, where and with whom?

The bottom line is my parents were worried about my "core" safety. Now-a-days parents are worried about every little thing that can go wrong and it is usually not justified. We have insurance, and broken bones didn't affect me in the long run.

To see my boy out being a "boy" is awesome!

Those of you in my age group would have to agree (I suppose), things really are different now.
posted by winks007 at 7:41 AM on March 7, 2007

Really, just turning off those babysitting televisions & video games would do wonders.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:47 AM on March 7, 2007

This is one of the reasons we homeschool our kids. They get lots more unfettered outdoor time than they would otherwise. We also live in a town with sidewalks and accessible parks and playgrounds that the kids can walk or bike to. Most of my friends live in exurban enclaves in the middle of nowhere so the kids are pretty isolated even when they can go play outside.
posted by Biblio at 7:48 AM on March 7, 2007

I knew I didn't do a good job explaining myself, miko. What I meant was that jobs used to end at 5:00, and employers understood that once the whistle blew, you were on your own time. Like you say in your second paragraph. You're actually saying more or less what I meant.

Nowadays people are expected to stay much later at work, and employers have all sorts of legal ways of hanging things over their employees' heads. Send 'em home with a laptop. Get 'em to come in on Saturdays. Make 'em feel like their jobs are more important than anything else. And I think families suffer greatly from this. I think families often break up because of this.

I grew up in the seventies. My dad had a gummint job and my mom was a librarian. My brother and I let ourselves in after school, and roamed around the neighborhood until dinner if we wanted. I used to play in streams all the time. Parents I've spoken to register shock that my parents would let me play in a stream. I was bummed that they wouldn't let me play with bows and arrows or hatchets.
posted by breezeway at 7:49 AM on March 7, 2007

Winks007, sounds like you are doing an amazing job at getting the kids outdoors. This one, though --

you need to feel my aprehension that I feel when that 14 y/o blonde haired girl walks to the corner store

That one's not about being outside, that's just about being a girl. One of the things girls have to do is learn to deal with male attention and intentions, whether they're in somebody's basement playing video games or out in the woods. It sounds like you've got a handle on it and it hasn't changed your priorities, but I'd hate for others to let that sort of fear curtail a girl's interest in outdoor activities.
posted by Miko at 7:50 AM on March 7, 2007

Make 'em feel like their jobs are more important than anything else


Parents I've spoken to register shock that my parents would let me play in a stream

Heh. There was one stream we used to play in that was later declared a cleanup site because it was contaminated with dry-cleaning chemicals. Yay!
posted by Miko at 7:52 AM on March 7, 2007


Exactly how are things really different? violent crime, overall, is lower than it's been in a few decades. It's clear you view risk for your children very differently based on gender, despite the fact that boys are statistically more likely to get in fights, to get assaulted, etc.
posted by canine epigram at 7:56 AM on March 7, 2007

Winks, you have to realize your daughter deals with those boys all day long in school, why should the weekend be any different?

Anyway, when I was growing up I think the idea of 'minimal' injuries was accepted. Almost everyone I knew broke their arm or something like that. If you fell down, you got up. Now, it seems like it's OK for kids to have repetitive stress injuries from playing sports for 4 hours a day, but heaven forbid that she might break her arm falling out of a tree.

(Random note-- my husband was a boy scout up to eagle scouts, and he still uses some of the skills he learned in day-to-day life. Not to mention scoffing at the poor firestarting on survivor.)
posted by miss tea at 8:07 AM on March 7, 2007

A few years ago, my mom was playing in the stream out back (well, she calls it gardening; I know better) and the rock she was on shifted and she lost her balance, breaking her heelbone and her ankle and tearing her Achilles tendon. Proving to me that streams are dangerous, for adults. But not for kids. I used to come home with cuts and scrapes and poison ivy all the time. Big deal! I learned not to pick at scabs, and not to scratch at itches. And not to complain when I was lying in a bed of my own making.

My mom's accident (she's fully recovered now, tough lady) makes the Spinal Tap drummer joke even funnier. Everyone in my family refers to her "bizarre gardening accident."
posted by breezeway at 8:09 AM on March 7, 2007

Miko...you may or may not have noticed, my pucker factor is at 10 every time she leaves the house and It takes all I have to stay put. It takes even more to convince my wife that my daughter will be o.k. Wifey on the other hand when she was 14 or so, had a neighborhood friend force himself on her and she has a hard time trusting the boys. The daughter has no fears and may be a bit over-confident (I don't know where she gets that) that she can handle those situations when they arise.

I'll take my boy dustiing it up with the neighborhood kids anyday over something irreversible happening to my daughter. She brings it up as well. How come Lil Bobby can do this and that and she can't. I tell them that they are equal but, not the same. When I ask her to wear my shoes and what would she do with her own daughter she realises there is a difference indeed.

Not too long ago, she told me about her boyfriend of 1.5 years swimming along the batture of the Mississippi River and I let her know that that was not a safe activity. I di not tell her that I did the same thing at the same age.

I was only trying to say that the PC, playstation and digital cable, do not keep my kids inside.

I hope my kids don't do 1/100 of the stupid shit I did when I was a kid.
posted by winks007 at 8:27 AM on March 7, 2007

canine. You take my 10 y/o boy and the 14 y/o girl and you will see a difference.

Being a boy/man myself, I worry about what Lil Bobby will do to himself.

Not being a girl/young woman, you worry about what others will do to her.

I'd be willing to bet you know of girl/young woman who was the victim of a forceful unwanted act.

I don't think the medical field has developed a rape/sexual assault Band-Aid. Prolly my biggest fear is someone taking her innocence, not her giving it away of her own free will.
posted by winks007 at 8:49 AM on March 7, 2007

I've always tossed my kids outside and they grew up playing outdoors - even when we lived in a tough neighborhood in East Baltimore. I also always got raised eyebrows and snarky comments and shock from the more affluent of my friends whose children's lives were all uber scheduled, from school to piano lesson to little league to tutoring to strictly supervised 2 hour play date. This has always struck me as terribly sad and I've never understood why people think their kids can't have outdoor childhoods like we did. Actually, when I was growing up in the 70s, crime was higher than it was for my 80s & 90s children and yet everyone has managed to live through it. Well, my son may blow up the neighborhood yet.

I know my kids (one boy, one girl, ages 15 and 24 and the girl did everything the boy did, no differences there) have done some terribly dangerous stuff. So, after all, did I. Occasionally they will let some information slip and I'll find out about some other hair raising, harrowing experience and, while I cringe inside, I'm glad that they had the chance to break some rules, learn about consequences and grow up naturally. No, he shouldn't have been being towed by a car while on a skateboard. No, she shouldn't have been way out in the national forest with a bunch of friends and a case of beer. But that is how you learn, and I don't believe in surrounding kids in bubble wrap and never letting them do anything on their own. I watched a lot of my daughter's friends hit college and go completely berserk with the freedom; so many parents these days have coddled their kids to the extent that they really don't know what to do with themselves once the supervision is removed.

And, in other news, this morning at work I had 50 3rd graders in here. One of them must have weighed over 200 pounds, I kid you not, and a much higher proportion were seriously chunky than ever in my childhood, which seems to be always the case when groups of kids come in. It makes me really sad to see it and I wonder how many of these kids ever go outside or ever have a chance to just run and ride bikes and take risks and explore. Not enough, I'm afraid.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:57 AM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I hope my kids don't do 1/100 of the stupid shit I did when I was a kid.


My parents were concerned with our "core-safety" also, but I found myself in situations that I wouldn't want for my kids. A boy also forced himself on me when I was 14, but I managed to break free.

Concerning soccer and Little League. I force myself and sign my kids up for soccer and T-ball every year. My kids aren't old enough to roam free yet. It's absolute torture to drive to a crowded soccer field every Saturday morning, but it's worth it for the exercise and working as a team component.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:58 AM on March 7, 2007

Kids these days. I wish they'd go inside and get off my lawn.
(Someone was going to say it...)

I live in a great house surrounded by woods on a lake, with another lake with giant rock outcroppings behind. Its safe as in your own bed there. Swimming, fishing, riding the canoe, swimming pool, trampoline, bikes, basketball, etc. My kids constantly tell me 'there is nothing to do.' I laugh. Not too worried, they don't play video games or really watch very much TV, like to play sports instead. My 9 yo daughter collects frogs. Do I wish they were more comfortable making their own unstructured fun? Yeah. Does this signal the end of Western Civilization? I don't think so. The pendulum will swing back one day.

Hey! You there...get off the lawn!
posted by sfts2 at 9:00 AM on March 7, 2007

Related to the job issues above. I have told every employer, that I am a "5:00 clock rocket". Meaning, my other job is a father and husband. Shit...my car won't even stop along the way, it goes straight home at 5:00pm and I try to be in it. My 2nd job is at home and starts at 5:25pm, promptly. To my knowledge, it's never cost me in an interview.

I'm in sales and if the phone isn't ringing, you can bet your ass, I'm on my way out of the door. Used to be in outside sales, too many out of town nights and long workdays and weekends. F-that. I'm on the inside now and have been for over 15 years. At 5:00pm, don't be in between me and the door.

As you can tell, I don't want my headstone to read "he was a hard worker" I would rather take the GREAT honor of being a good father and husband. That is how I want to be remembered. I remember my dad, he was a hard worker and a hard drinker. He lived that way and died the same way, never really saw him happy. He was either drunk or at work.
posted by winks007 at 9:01 AM on March 7, 2007

"since we've been creating a world where there aren't many places left outside for kids to go exploring."
dude, move to Wyoming.
posted by hatchetjack at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2007

It's a good thing that your girl is confident, Winks -- she's going to need it. And as I say, it doesn't matter what outdoor activities you allow/don't allow. Women are going to encounter creepy men: the likelihood is 100%, no matter how you bring them up. But I'd be willing to bet that girls are far more often accosted by creepy men in schools, friends' houses, churches, malls, and the like than they are in the outdoors. I know it has been true in my own life: it was the 'civilized' places that posed the most danger of unwanted attention.

I don't advocate a double standard for girls and boys. We've all got to live in the same world. Try as you might, you cannot control every situation your daughter will ever be in; particularly after she leaves the house as a young adult, when she will still seem young and innocent to you.

Sexual abuse is quite traumatic, but I believe that overprotection of girls actually helps sustain its frequency. It helps by keeping alive the idea that girls are weaker, more helpless, and more easily victimized than boys. When girls think of themselves that way, they're being encouraged to see men as more powerful than themselves. Girls with a deep strong self-confidence and plenty of awareness of sexual issues are less likely to end up in these situations.

Prepare her, but don't hold her back. She needs to be able to get through a lifetime of free choice, and innocence offers no protection.

Anyway, sorry for the derail. As an outdoorsy girl-now-woman, I just feel sad that safety from sexual assault becomes an issue for people when considering how much freedom to allow to explore the outdoors.
posted by Miko at 9:08 AM on March 7, 2007

LoriFla, then you know where my wife is coming from. She wasn't so lucky and she really liked the kid to boot.

Also, playground sports are much more fun when you're the coach. Although my daughtera softball team is now U14, basically Babe Ruth League and I suspect that they now know more than I, (I think they know this too) and I will have to go coach my boys team this year. I've been a coach for 7 years, softball and baseball. I tell myself by keeping kids on the field, I am teaching them good sportmanship, responsibility, teamwork, and elping to keep them off of the streets and interacting with their peers socially.

The bottom line....do what you have to do to keep the girls off the pole and the boys out of jail and they will be o.k.
posted by winks007 at 9:10 AM on March 7, 2007

Miko, we could sit here and go back and forth all day.
You have opened my eyes to some things that I have never thought through. I have educated her, I have prepared her for these things too, I guess it's my fault that I don't trust little boys. I was one of them little bastards. I suppose a therapist would say that I am trying to protect her from all of the little "me's" out there.

I do agree that the main threat comes from closer to the home too. Such a pity.

I usually let my children see my flaws too. I am far, far from perfect.

I'll be sure to show her these comments. Would you grown, women mind putting a few words of wisdom for a beautiful, athletic, above-average student and all around good kid.

You know, as a parent, sometimes even I don't know what to say.
posted by winks007 at 9:20 AM on March 7, 2007

Parents I've spoken to register shock that my parents would let me play in a stream

This is totally my experience as well. I grew up on a 100+ acre tree farm with no neighbors at all for miles in either direction, and no neighbor kids my own age much farther away than that. I grew up running free through the woods, reading books in trees, crossing streams by walking across beaver dams, clambering through the hayloft of our four story barn, and coming home when I heard the bell that my grandfather mounted outside the kitchen door ringing. I'm amazed to this day that I didn't drown or break a leg and get stuck out there.

That being said, if it were possible to give my son the same childhood I had, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I bet I'd get some raised eyebrows at the PTA.
posted by anastasiav at 10:59 AM on March 7, 2007

I was bummed that they wouldn't let me play with bows and arrows or hatchets.

We made out own bows and arrows and then set up a pumpkin firing range. It was wonderful.

My husband and I both have semi-outdoor jobs (we're both ecologists). I hope when we have children that we will be able to encourage them to play outside. I'll gladly go with them.
posted by nekton at 1:19 PM on March 7, 2007

I grew up in a suburban neighborhood that had a big field with trees, a storm drain and numerous houses under construction. In other words, paradise for a kid. We caught small garter snakes, messed around in construction sites and set things on fire in the storm drain (only a few times though). I feel sorry for kids that don't know the simple joy of overturning a rock and looking for creeply crawlies underneath.
posted by clockworkjoe at 2:04 PM on March 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

"Plate of shrimp" - heh
posted by vronsky at 4:02 PM on March 7, 2007

I played inside, and I liked it, and I'm not sorry. And should I ever have children, they will probably play inside too. Sheesh.
posted by bingo at 5:44 PM on March 7, 2007

Winks, yeah, I was not picking a fight. You seem like a great parent. All I would say to a girl in her early teens now is this:

1. Not everyone is a good person. There are people out there who don't have your self-awareness and self-control. They may be personally damaged, needy, or angry in ways you're fortunate enough not to have experienced. Sometimes people like that will try to get you into situations where they can take advantage of you to try to fulfill their own needs, without much regard for yours. It's hard to believe, but it happens. You don't ever have to go along with this. If you ever feel uncomfortable with any kind of interpersonal situation, remove yourself from it as swiftly as possible, in any way you need to. Don't worry about offending someone else, being impolite, being too loud, being too pushy, or any of the other reasons you might ignore your good, natural instincts. Girls are too often taught to be quiet, compliant, and sweet and so they don't object to bad behavior as early as they should. Don't be like that. Above all, value yourself and do whatever it takes to keep yourself safe.

2. Your freedom is the greatest gift you'll ever have, and generations of men and women worked very hard to bring you to the point where you have such freedom of choice about where you will go, who you will be, and what you will do. Make the most of it. Don't let yourself be afraid to go to new places and try new things. Definitely question the limits and see if they're really reasonable. Just make sure you know yourself well, and while you stretch yourself into new experiences, don't do anything that ever compromises who you essentially are. If you start to stray far from your truest nature, you'll feel noticeably uncomfortable, and that's an important signal. But any rewarding life involves some risk, and when you are strong and prepared and on the lookout for yourself, you can take those important risks while looking out for yourself at the same time.

And 3. Your parents are cool, and really care about you and tell you so and show it in their actions. They know your worth as a person, they communicate it to you, and that knowledge alone will really help you choose the best people to be around and the best things to do.
posted by Miko at 6:31 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

CNN rarely runs headlines like "12 Year Old Has Fun In Woods and Finds Interesting Rocks, Bugs." Life is all Amber Alert, stranger-danger, home invasion, GPS, Just Say No, mountain lions, stranger-danger, cell phones, unmarked white van, stranger-danger, school ID card, Internet pedophile ring, Halloween Candy Horror, rabid coyotes, full-on freakout. I see perfectly reasonable people who buy into it and somehow forget their own childhoods, and then believe that things are somehow more dangerous now.
posted by adipocere at 7:03 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow. I've been away from the computer all day since I posted this. I'm weary of posting FPPs sometimes because of the potential for heated non-conversations, and this thread has been an excellent example of civility and genuine, soul-searching reflection. That's fucking awesome.

I work with far too many kids whose parents feel beyond the ability to control the compulsive video gaming and reliance upon the idiot box for entertainment. Taking the kids out to a waterfall is often far more therapeutic than a 50 minute hour of traditional therapy. Kids crave nature without knowing why... they come alive out there, they feel far more free with their emotions in the woods than they do in an office or school. While the need to connect to the Earth is often overlooked in helping kids feel good about themselves, spending even 30 minutes in the natural world often reveals far more than "let's talk about your feelings today." Nature is neutral and it's where we learn the awe of our power and our limits. For that reason, I really hope this movement spreads.
posted by moonbird at 7:41 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Clockworkjoe, beautifully said.
posted by moonbird at 7:43 PM on March 7, 2007

I grew up in paradise. In one direction, 1 mile to downtown, with public pool, library, bakery, etc. In the opposite direction, 1 mile to the next road, and that continued for at least 20 miles. Farmer's fields, meadows, woods, and creeks filled the gaps. (and sometimes new housing developments sprang up, as I grew older).

In those days, nearly all such places had foot paths. The closer in to town, the more paths. In my early 20's, living elsewhere, I learned that this was typical everywhere people lived. I found it a comfort that I always pretty much knew where to find foot paths.

As a kid, I was the the most wayward boy I ever knew. I always pressed the limits of what was 'allowed', as regards distance. And my parents were pretty lenient about it (most parents were, in that time and place). I learned how to tell when a place was going to be very difficult to hike and when it would be easy, path or not.

Kids today don't get this. They are over-managed, over-protected. They lack the strength that comes from knowning their environment. They are taught to be afraid and dependant.

These frightened, dependant kids make great surfs.

As I can't imagine I haven't said here before:
If things in the 1800's had been as they are today, covered wagons and pioneering would be banned as unsafe activities. Pioneer parents would have their kids taken away and be put in prison, for reckless endangerment of their offspring.

The biggest danger to your children are automobiles . After that, probably the danger of growing up packed in bubblewrap, eating corn-sweetened crap, weak fat, and defenseless, with a government that wants to teach them to kill the latest enemy they've invented.
posted by Goofyy at 2:03 AM on March 8, 2007

Thanks Miko!
posted by winks007 at 6:35 AM on March 8, 2007

Parents are "finding it harder" to get kids to play outside?

...maybe this was just me, but my parents actively discouraged me and my siblings from playing outside. They were afraid we'd get run over or kidnapped or something.
posted by Target Practice at 2:55 PM on March 8, 2007

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