Kid’s lives have shifted from outdoors to indoors in a generation’s time.

There’s a very interesting article on USA Today titled Childhood pastimes are increasingly moving indoors that touches on a topic I’ve had on my mind quite a bit lately as well: the rising trend of kids today preferring indoor rather than outdoor activities.

The fundamental nature of American childhood has changed in a single generation. The unstructured outdoor childhood — days of pick-up baseball games, treehouses and “be home for dinner” — has all but vanished.

Today, childhood is spent mostly indoors, watching television, playing video games and working the Internet. When children do go outside, it tends to be for scheduled events — soccer camp or a fishing derby — held under the watch of adults. In a typical week, 27% of kids ages 9 to 13 play organized baseball, but only 6% play on their own, a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

The shift to an indoor childhood has accelerated in the past decade, with huge declines in spontaneous outdoor activities such as bike riding, swimming and touch football, according to separate studies by the National Sporting Goods Association, a trade group, and American Sports Data, a research firm. Bike riding alone is down 31% since 1995.

My daughter, Courtney, will turn 15 this coming August and she’s much like a lot of kids these days in that she spends most of her time at home in her room either reading books or doing stuff on her PC with occasional bouts of TV watching. It’s rare for her to go over to a friend’s house and hang out or do much of anything outside regardless of whether it’s summer vacation or a school week. When she does do these things it usually because I suggested the idea to her. When she first came here to live you couldn’t keep her out of the apartment complex’s pool during the summer months. Last summer she swam in it three or four times I think. So far this year she’s been in it twice despite this being one of the hottest summers in recent memory in Michigan. Her last big outdoors event was this past Tuesday when she took a trip with some family friends down to Cedar Point for the day. We bought a pair of long-range walkie talkies on clearance that have a 6 mile reach so that Courtney can hop on her bike and head over to her friends houses when she feels like it, but she’s only taken advantage of it a couple of times. This is as much because her friends often aren’t available than any lack of initiative on her part, though.

Thinking back to my time as a kid I seem to recall being outside quite a bit and, as a teen her age, I hung out with my friends on a regular basis. The Internet wasn’t what it is today back then, but we were geeky enough to know about it and have access to it. Still, we didn’t have the instant messaging or the webpages that are out there today as much of what you did on the Net back then was entirely text based and email, while it’s quick, isn’t real time communication. I did spend a fair amount of time on the phone, something Courtney doesn’t do regularly, and I did run a BBS system at her age that took up some time in front of my trusty Commodore 64. I do remember having a lot of freedom even before I could drive a car and without the aid of long-range walkie talkies and the like. In the summer it wasn’t unusual for me to bike all the way to the Pontiac Mall—which was a good 15 minute drive from where I lived—to blow some quarters at the Aladdin’s Castle arcade and do some window shopping. Sometimes I did it with a friend and other times I went by myself. That’s a distance I’d be reluctant about allowing Courtney to traverse on her own these days.

Which is something the USA Today article brings up; it’s not just the lure of media and the Internet that’s keeping kids indoors these days. Often it’s the parents as well:

Parents are more afraid of letting kids roam in a world of heavy traffic and reports of pedophiles and missing children. A 41% decline in the birth rate since 1960 means smaller packs of kids roam neighborhoods. Air-conditioning means kids don’t need the local pool or swimming hole to cool off.

“Boundaries for kids used to be measured by blocks or miles. Now, the boundary for most kids is the front yard. A lot of kids are under house arrest,” says Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, a book about how children have lost touch with nature.

He says many parents fear the outdoors, whether it’s letting a kid climb a tree or hike alone in the woods. “Parents think their kids are safer in front of the Xbox in the next room.”

When my mom would get on me about the amount of time I spent playing video games I’d point out that at least she knew where I was and that I was safe. After all, I’d say, I could be out getting high or drunk or something. I don’t think my mom bought into that theory too much, but it sounds like a lot of other parents these days do. Courtney’s allowed roaming range has grown over the years from being limited to the park across the street from the apartment to a couple of blocks to the range of the walkie talkies these days. She’ll be driving within the next two years and already has friends who do drive so we’re considering a cell-phone in the very near future for her. Assuming I can afford it sometime soon, that is.

I’ve been more restrictive with Court than my folks were with me, but mainly because I didn’t become a full-time parent until she was just shy of 9 years old and I was taking the better-safe-than-sorry approach to parenting for awhile. So it’s possible that Courtney’s lack of initiative in getting out more is a direct result of my past limits on how far she was allowed to roam. I was also fortunate to spend the majority of my childhood in one location—we lived in the same house on the north-west side of Pontiac for the first 17 years of my life—whereas when Courtney lived with her mother they moved around quite a bit. I think the six years or so that Courtney has lived here has been the longest she’s been in one spot in her life. Even after we moved I was able to visit with the friend’s I’d established because we were all driving by then. Well, most of us anyway. Bill seemed to always be sans car.

Childhood’s outdoor pastimes are declining fast and the rate has accelerated in the past decade, especially the past five years, according to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) annual survey of physical activity.

Since 1995, the portion of children ages 7 to 11 who swim, fish or play touch football has declined by about a third. Canoeing and water skiing are down by similar amounts.

The relationship between kids and their bikes is especially telling.

In 1995, 68% of children ages 7 to 11 rode a bike at least six times a year. Last year, only 47% did.

The sales of children’s bikes fell from 12.4 million in 2000 to 9.8 million in 2004, a 21% decline, according to Bicycle Industry and Retailer News,an industry magazine.

“Bikes used to be empowering for children,” says Marc Sani, publisher of the magazine. “My parents didn’t care where I went as long as I was home for supper. Now, parents are afraid to let kids out of their sight.”

My bike was freedom personified when I was a kid. I had an original Schwinn Stingray that I rode into the ground and then built back up out of spare parts with friends in the neighborhood over and over again. Later I inherited my brother’s ten-speed Schwinn that I used for most of my teen years until I talked my folks into getting me a moped. They couldn’t afford a brand new one so they found a used Puch moped from the 70’s or so that looked like a cross between a bicycle and a motorcycle that you had to pedal like crazy to start and which made you look completely ridiculous riding if you were using your brother’s old full-head visored motorcycle helmet. It came in particularly handy for getting me to and from driver’s training on my own. That silly old moped, which turns out to be quite the collector’s item these days, was my first real taste of freedom similar to what getting your own car is like and I was doing that at Courtney’s current age.  I feel like I’m depriving my kid of some of the great stuff I did when I was her age.

According to the article, most kids that do get outdoors these days do it by appointment for scheduled sports events and the like….

Tracey Martin, 40, head of parks and recreation in Greenville, Ohio, says his athletic 14-year-old son spends a typical summer week playing basketball all day at basketball camp and playing soccer at night. But when his son is home, the boy spends his free time using computer chat rooms and playing cards over the Internet. “The funny thing is, I never see him play cards with his friends,” his father says.

I am worried about Courtney not getting enough exercise as that was a routine I should have developed when I was younger myself, and still should for that matter, but I’m also worried that she’s not getting enough time socializing face to face with her peers. Even if she went over to a friend’s house and spent the afternoon playing video games at least she’d be interacting with them on a more personal level. She’s not quite as bad about this as some of the kids in this article are, but I’m still trying to encourage her to make her rare trips out of the apartment more frequent. I used to worry that once she was of driving age I’d rarely see her at all, but now I’m beginning to wonder if that’s likely to happen or not. Time will tell I suppose.

23 thoughts on “Kid’s lives have shifted from outdoors to indoors in a generation’s time.

  1. I was just speaking of this with my wife this morning. Her kids live with us, and the youngest two, (a girl, 18 and a boy, 15,) NEVER leave the house!

    We live in the same neighborhood that I grew up in, and I was just telling her that I was always out running around with my brother and/or our friends. But these days her kids, and seemingly most other kids around where we live, stay locked up inside the house. Even after we took the boy’s XBox away, we still can’t get him outside.

  2. My parents used to force me to go outside… Maybe that’s why I loathe it now that I can make my own decisions. Most of my time when I was younger was spent reading. I was the only kid reading Crichton and King in 4th grade. By the time we read the Odyssey and the Iliad in highschool, it was like re-living my childhood.

    I went to the bank today to cash in some bonds for college and it only took 2 minutes of the 95 degree Michigan summer to remind me why I don’t go out too often. Late night with my gang however… That’s every night. Should 2am taco-bell runs and weekly parties be considered outdoor activities?

  3. I have very fond memories of playing outdoors… hide and go seek, “guns”, curb ball, street frisbee, and turning on the street fire hydrant to cool down on a 100 degree day (only in Detroit… *laughing*).  I wouldn’t trade any of it in, dispite I spent many hours playing video games also. 

    Although it is getting to be more of a truth, I don’t feel much older than the kids that don’t know what its like to be yelled at for getting grass stains all over their new school pants.  Or, as much as you had to be in for dinner, they was almost no time between that last bite and running back outside to finish what you started.  I miss it more now when I don’t get the chance to do those things because of work and other duties.  I can fit video games in there whenever I need to.  That outside time though… it’s a precious thing to take advantage of when you can.

  4. We’ve been dealing with this regarding our seven year old son (well, almost eight).  We live in a very nice neighborhood in a quiet, rural area.  We allow our son to go to the end of our street, providing some adult knows where he is.

    The amount of time he spends outside is vastly less than I did at his age.  His XBox, computer, and even board games with the family seem to have more allure for him than roaming around with the kids on the block.  Not that he doesn’t do it … just that we have to force him more than I recall being forced.  Then again, there are a lot cooler toys (PCs, XBox, etc) than I had in my youth.

    When he does play outside, we do get a little freaked.  We try to be as laid-back as we can, and we know the likelihood of our son being accosted is somewhere less than all of us getting hit by lightning simultaneously.  However, we’ve gone to the sex offender listings for our area, and there are four very-high-risk offenders within a mile of us.  It’s hard not to be concerned.


  5. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, but that’s probably because I am a nature enthusiast.  This weekend we’re taking our daughter and one of her friends camping.  That will make my fifth camping trip for this summer.
      I have noticed that our daughter doesn’t spend nearly as much time outside as I used to.  I think the article touched on some salient points.  There is a lot more entertainment for kids indoors than when I was growing up.  Another valid point is the safety issue.  That was a big reason for our move from the city to a rural area.  Our nearest neighbnor now is a quarter mile away.  We are surrounded by orchards and vineyards and the road is also about a quarter mile away.  If our daughter wants to go outside to play, I have a lot less concern for her safety now than when we lived in the city.  She does go for “hikes” in the orchards with her dog.  She also will swim in the pond when there is water in it.  But she does have her own computer and plays games as well as surfs the ‘Net.  She watches too much TV- I have to tell her to read a book.
      BTW, Sepharo, books read even better outdoors! wink

  6. When I was a kid (god damn it, I’m only 19, I shouldn’t be saying stuff like “when I was a kid” for at least another six years) we had TV and video games, but somehow managed to spend pretty much all our time down at the beach or out the back in the bush. Mum and Dad weren’t too concerned as long as we were never alone, sometimes I think they were just relieved to have us at home watching Monkey or Doctor Who on TV, or playing Mortal Kombat.

  7. Ah, the memories. In the summer holidays my friends and I would spend ALL DAY outside – I don’t even remember coming home for mealtimes. My parents were good but they regarded the fact that we were out getting into mischief as a healthy thing – something that kids are supposed to do.

    Consequently, at the age of 47 I can still walk for dozens of miles (did so last Wednesday) without feeling tired whereas my x-box-anchored kids can’t keep up with their ‘old’ Dad.

    On a serious note, I read somewhere that a quarter of UK kids are classed as obese, whereas in my day there would usually be only 1 kid in the entire school that people would make fun of for being fat. I hope we’re not breeding an unhealthy generation – someone needs to pay for my state pension !

  8. Very important cultural developments you’ve put under the spotlight, Les.  Add to the various reasons (media, overprotective parents, urban sprawl) one more: Physical Education class does an excellent job teaching kids to hate exercise.

    What’s that?  I hear PE teachers getting ready to sputter out a rebuttal?  They’re all advanced and modern now and don’t have dodgeball anymore?  Big deal.  They’re still missing the target.

    When I watch punk kids practicing for endless hours with their skateboards, cooperating and helping each other, I know kids are not lazy.  But like school music programs that seem to have a knack for missing kids’ music interests, PE seems to swing wide around any activity kids enjoy.

    When I was a kid (nerdy, voracious reader, partially handicapped) I still spent tons of time outdoors doing often dangerous things.  It never occurred to my parents they needed to micromanage every minute of my time.  grin

  9. I don’t know about anyone else, but in the schools I attended Dodge Ball was a much desired activity in gym class. We loved it. Even those of us, like me, who totally sucked at it.

  10. I remember spending most of my time outside when i was a kid.  Computers didn’t begin to interest me until 7th grade and they were still so slow you couldn’t do much of anything worth a seventh grader’s attention.  We got SNES when I was in 2nd grade.  It got boring quickly cuz we never had new games to play.  We had a few friends with various entertainment systems that we sometimes spent time playing but other than that, we did lots of bike racing around the block, held various clubs we could imagine, baseball and kickball in the summer on the playground after school and football in the fall.  Winter didn’t go by without us taking full advantage of every day that allowed snowballs and forts.  I read a lot too(beyond high school reading level by 7th grade raspberry ) but still loved playing outside.

    Lately, one my parents and my favorite arguments to have is why my youngest brother is fat.  It’s not genetics and my parents live in some fantasy world where they think brother actually does something besides surf the internet and play gamecube.  He doesn’t get anywhere near as much exercise as I did.  He claims biking three blocks to the other side of the neighbor is exercise.  I’d love to see him race around the block as fast as he can for thirty laps.  I wish my parents would be a role model or at least force him out of the house more.  No gaming consoles or cable in my house when I’m a parent.  DVDs, reading and internet is all that I will allow and those will be strictly limited.  I just hope there are some people left who will raise their children to be active when I get to that stage with them.

  11. As youngsters *cough30cough* years ago, my generation would roam for hours.
    On emigrating to Oz, the hot summers helped turned me into something of a vampire, but I’d still roam during the cooler weather.

    The kids of today *shakes zimmer frame* just seem to hang aroung shopping malls…if they’re out at all. The only kids I ever see in the parks are tiny tots on the playground equipment.

  12. I hated dodgeball.  I still do.  I hated the whole idea of intentionally trying to hit somebody with a thrown object (and yes, that thing HURT the way the bigger kids threw it).

    Am I the only one who was raised not to hit or throw things at people? 

    And we wonder how those same kids grew up to be so aggressive … it’s not a lack of Bible, people; it’s DODGEBALL.  You tell ‘em not to fight and then you tell ‘em it’ll be great fun to bean each other, especially the little kids you want to pick on anyway.

  13. No gaming consoles or cable in my house when I’m a parent.  DVDs, reading and internet is all that I will allow and those will be strictly limited.

    Famous last words LOL

    We’ve been in our house here for almost 5 years, and the Princess has yet to find or befriend a single kid in the neighborhood.  When I was her age, we moved a LOT (like every 6 freakin’ months), but I usually had scoped out the neighborhood and introduced myself to at least ONE kid within the first week in a new place.  The Princess, on the other hand, spends most of her time with one or more of the 4 girlfriends she has, 2 of whom she’s known since 2nd grade.  They are dyed-in-the-wool “mall maggots” and for the most part their outdoor activities are pretty much limited to walking from one girl’s house to the local mall; or else it’s spending the day at Universal Studios and City Walk.

    If my husband had his way, though, I think the kid’d be locked up ‘til the age of 30.  To hear him talk, you’d think that in the 20 years since he was the Princess’ age the world has morphed into a place where pedophiles, murderers and child-snatchers have become so commonplace that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one.

    I remember being younger than my daughter, and my sister and I hopping on our bikes and riding 11 miles to a local amusement park just to do it, since we certainly didn’t have any money for a ticket in.  We didn’t have cell phones, and we were lucky if we had a dime to use a pay phone, and while I’m sure my Mom still worried the way every parent does when their children are out of their sight, apparently she trusted us to put into practice those things she taught us about staying safe.  It obviously worked, because both my sister and I are alive and well, and never once found ourselves in danger while roaming the streets of our SoCal neighborhoods.

    I’ve gotta say, though, that the brutal heat and the shitty air quality here in L.A. are two excellent reasons not to venture outdoors for most of the summer, and I can’t blame the kids for preferring to spend more time in the air conditioning of the mall than outside in the heat & smog.

  14. Am I the only one who was raised not to hit or throw things at people?

    I think I was raised not to do any of the following:
    bite, muzzle-flash, snitch or let someone get the upper hand
    in a fight, get caught, trust people, take any shit from anybody for any
    reason, take advantage of the diabled.

    But I was also raised to do the following:
    Go out of your way to help others, take care of
    yourself, plan & organize tactical & strategic tasks, select materials/tools
    & crew members, hunt & track game, box, repair equipment, line up work,
    collect your overhead up front on a job, be a good sport, perform research,
    read people, gain the trust of individuals and convince them to do things they
    normally wouldnt, take only what you need, kill only what you eat,  give all
    you can.. ..and I did just that.

    Things that Michigan public school taught me:
    Standard ciriculum + chem, physics, geometry, trig, calc,
    drafting & design, kickbox. Preempt a fight, swing first, roll a joint,
    successfully engineer believeable lies, usurp authority and spot loopholes
    in rules/systems and exploit them to my advantage.
    Acquire alcohol, get laid and dodge a ball.

    But was my agression taught by dodgeball or was
    it a combination of leadership and dominance?
    Im sure there are opinions.. ..I wouldnt raise my kids entirely
    this way if I had any. I would try to shelter them a bit.

    As for being outside.. a bike at age 5 was my key to freedom until about age
    13 where I got a dirtbike. I’ve always had access to ATVs & snowmachines.
    I spent 95% of my time outside growing up. But there was always a colecovision,
    an atari and a tandy 1000 available for downtime or really cold weather. wintertime is still videogame time for me for the mostpart..

    after a decorated but short military career:  ..evidently Ive turned into a ‘rougue sytems admin’ as my last two employers have put it. I also have trouble
    not telling folks how fucking retarded they and their piss-poor plans are.
    this goes over awesome with management. They either love me or hate me..
    seems to be the latter with the last two employers

    Currently jobhunting, unemployed and keeping
    busy with home improvements (and SEB/daniweb)
    back to sheetrock and paint..

  15. I think I was raised not to do any of the following: bite, muzzle-flash …

    Err … what’s “muzzle-flash”?

  16. I’m with you GeekMom. When teams were picked for ANYTHING I was one of the very last kids to be chosen so right off the bat I developed a negative view of any kind of sport or game, but Dodgeball was just the Roman games for bored P.E. instructors. In my gym class we had at least three kids who inevitably ended up on the same team who could throw the ball the full length of the basketball court where it would hit the wall and bounce back to them. The one time I ‘caught’ one of those rocket propelled spheres it left a six inch diameter red welt in the middle of my chest for the rest of the day. Believe me that I had no intention of doing anything other than running for cover but my arms snapped shut reflexively when the ball impacted my ribcage. And what sick fuck of a coach calls ‘go anywhere’ when your dodging skills have left you the last kid on your side of the gym and the kids left on their side are all muscle and sadism?

    Yeah, dodgeball sucks!

  17. point (flash) the barrel of a rifle at another individual, always be aware of what you’re pointing at; where downrange is for you & others.. it’s kinda
    key for saftey. so you dont end up dead or making others dead.  goes along with dont chamber a round
    until you’re going to fire, always move with the safety on, dont point at anything unless you intend on killing it…

  18. My wife and I decided that our daughter will not have her own tv/console/internet in her room until she is into her teens.  She’ll have to do all that in the family room or our bedroom.  Mainly b/c of her brother, who spent his teen years cloistered in his room with cable and nintendo.  He’d come out to get food and head right back.  His excursions were going to school and the video store. 

    I grew up without cable (bastards didn’t think it profitable to wire our little neighborhood).  Still spent lots of time on the Atari 2600, but tons of outdoor time.  I never stayed home/indoors long b/c of boredom.  My brother in law’s behavior seemed strange to me, since my friends and I were ALWAYS running the roads.  One of my fond memories is having a towel and shorts in my car at all times in case of impromtu swimming at the river.

    I’ll feel more confident about letting my daughter roam if she knows how to take care of herself.  Or I should say when she starts roaming – she’s only 3.  I’ve seen a few who were sheltered by parents fuck up when they got to college, with a drinking age of 18, and no parental supervision. 

    There are a couple of registered sex offenders in our immediate area – once she starts riding her bike around, she’ll pass right by their houses.  I’d much rather her know about them and know how to take care, than to keep her penned in the yard/house.  There’s also a big city park next door, but it is totally obscured by a natural stream bed and woods.  The kind of woods that can give overly protective parents nightmares.  I assume when she’s older, she’ll play there, since it’s also on the way to the elementary she’ll attend.  I’d let her walk to school if I feel she can take care of herself.  Of course, my growing up in BFE, catching the bus an hour before school starts, and getting home 45 minutes after school lets out, makes being able to walk to school look attractive.

    Once I started driving – oh, that was SOO nice getting to wake up at the same time I used to get on the bus.  The water balloon fights we had driving around before school was a lot of fun, too.

    There is the fact that we’re in the DFW area, with an average heat index of 100+ and ozone warnings every day.  Like OB said, makes the mall SOO much more appealing.  wink

  19. Its pretty scary, hell – I was an inside geek/bookworm when I was a kid, but I’m a rugged survivalist compared to the current crop of obese TV lobotomized spawn being bred in ‘Merika these days!

    No wonder they don’t give a damn that we are turning the outdoors into a polluted, hot, lifeless, land . . . they don’t see it!

  20. Well with global warming (or “climate change”) it’s too bloody hot outside anyway.

    Well, yeah – but with peak oil looming, you’ll have no AC to flee inside to! And no TV or Xbox for lard asses to sit in front of.  Actually . . . I can’t wait, I think its going to be good for us in the long run!

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