No longer is a Childhood Spent Outdoors
Childhood, a time when exploring, learning and creating encompasses a child’s daily life, is marked by being immersed in his or her environment. Many children have spent a majority of their unscheduled time playing outside, playing games with other children and alone, exploring the surrounding nature, and learning about the world they live in and different social skills. Playing outside was an activity that many children looked forward to and wanted to participate in. However in recent years, fewer children are found playing games outside, playing alone, and playing by choice. Childhood play time has shifted from unstructured outdoor play time, to indoor and organized activities. This change in childhood structure can be attributed to the increase in technology in a child’s life, higher participation in organized activities and sports, parental competition, and societal pressures on parents regarding safety of children. The mentality of the modern child has also changed from wanted to play and explore outside to preferring to remain inside and participate in other activities.
In the past, the American culture enforced outdoor play for children through different forms such as media and the toys geared for childhood play. Movies for children were typically set outside and usually encompassed a journey where the main characters interacted with others and learned from the world surrounding them. In some cases, the film industry used movies to share the destructive behavior that too much media might have on a child. An example of this would be in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where a child named Mike is too engrossed in the television shows to understand aspects of social interactions. Mike is unable to make it to the end of the movie because he became too infatuated with the television that it was his ultimate downfall. In the 1960’s, there was about 30 hours of children programming a week, however now there are over ten channels devoted to children’s shows (Cauchon), which shows how media once did not provide much for the child’s enjoyment allowing the children to find entertainment elsewhere. Children’s’ toys were also geared towards playing outside rather than indoor play. Some popular toys marketed to children around the 1960’s were Skip-it, bicycles, and fake guns. Each of these toys are depicted as being played with outside, with others or alone. According to a survey, seventy three percent of parents, growing up in a culture that embraced outdoor play, reported they preferred playing outdoors more than indoors compared to the thirteen percent reported by children who live in a society based on playing inside (Sackville). The past culture enforced children to play outside and to explore their surroundings more than modern culture.
Modern culture and media, in regards to toys and film are more focused on playing inside and exploration through technologies. Unlike the culture of the past, modern culture consists of toys that enforce playing indoors and playing alone. For example, some of the toys that are most popular consist of tablets designed for children, gaming systems, and toys reliant on electricity. These toys pull children away from playing outdoors due to the ability to have different forms of entertainment inside. Also these toys allow the children to play alone, or with others through connecting online whereas playing outside alone might not be entertaining to the child. Many films now focus on different themes than were once portrayed through the media. Some popular recent films were Wreck it Ralph and Big Hero 6, which both encompass the use of technology and how it is beneficial and intriguing. In Wreck it Ralph, the characters are established as video game characters emphasizing how important video gaming has become to younger children in modern society, but also encouraging other children to play with video games after seeing the fascinating film. Big Hero 6 emphasizes how important certain technologies can be, since a technological creation becomes the hero of the film, children view technologies as being necessary or desirable in their communities. On average, preteen and early teenagers spend around 13 minutes per day in physical; activity, however the preteen population spends on average 10 hours almost stationary (Harris). Compared with the media and films in the mid to late 1900’s, the 2000’s have marked a change in gaming and media culture for children now emphasizing a lifestyle that favors the indoors.
The increase of technology has led to many children staying inside rather than playing outside. Entertainment technology, television, computers, gaming systems and tablets have been on the rise in American culture, but also in childhood cultures. Many children in the past couple years are considered the technology generation, having been born into a society that is surrounded by technologies. At increasingly younger ages, children are using technology, specifically entertainment technologies. These technologies are inviting children to play inside rather than outside since the children do not feel a need to play outside when there are more intriguing games on their laptop or television screen. On average, children aged 8 to 10 spend six hours a day on entertainment technologies (Rowan). If the average child is spending that many hours of a day on technology, there is little to no day time spent on outdoor activities. Technologies provided children a means to explore and learn, however does not provide it in the same fashion as playing outside does. With technology, children are able to access many parts of the internet and learn many things through different apps and children’s educational games. Given a choice between using some type of technology and playing outside, an overwhelming number of children choose the technology. Technologies are now specifically focusing on the children users by creating technologies that are meant to be used only by children. This not only provides the child a source of entertainment that is completely their own, but also enforces the idea not to play games outside. With modern technology, a lot of the games that were once played outside can be played inside as apps on some type of smart technology or on a type of gaming system. Many sports, such as basketball and soccer, have versions on gaming systems that children tend to play rather than picking up a ball and playing the game outside. In my personal life, I have noticed this shift in regards to my own life compared to the lives of the children I work with. As a child, I was not introduced to a lot of technology which allowed myself to play and explore without the influence of technology in my life. When my family did increase the technology in my house, it did not seem to appeal to me or my neighbors considering the technology was not specifically designed for child use. Compared to the children I have babysat in the past six years, their knowledge of technology far surpassed mine at their age level. Recently, I babysat my two year old cousin and while I was preparing dinner, the child accessed YouTube on my cell phone and was watching videos. As a two year old, I would not even have known what a cell phone was, let alone know how to access applications. It is reported that fifty eight percent of children aged two to five, are able to play a computer game but are unable to do other childhood skills like knowing how to ride a bicycle (Taylor). With older children I babysit, I have noticed their lack of desire to play outside in favor of playing on their technologies. While babysitting two boys, ages 8 and 10, I brought inside a soccer ball and asked if the boys wanted to come outside and play with me; however one took the ball out of my hand and replaced it with a Wii remote to play online soccer. These children growing up about a decade after I did have a completely different sense of play-time than I did. Technologies capture the attention of children and call them away from games that were once played outside for similar games that can now be played in side on screens.
In modern society, children are now following scheduled days full of certain activities that they are expected to participate in. Children participate in many scheduled activities, such as sports practices, musical lessons, dance or karate classes, play dates and scheduled outdoor activities. According to Alliance for Childhood, today’s children spend fifty percent less time in unstructured activities than did the children in the 1970s (Harris). Parents create schedules for their children to follow, which encompass structured activities for the children to play and participate in. These events not only take away time that children might have spent playing outside in unstructured activities, but these events are used as replacement for playing outside. For organized sports, children constitute practice time as time spent playing outside. Although the activities take place outdoors, the structured activities are not necessarily games that the children want to play and do not foster creativity. For example, nearly thirty percent of preteen children play on an organized baseball team, however less than 10 percent of children would play on their own (Cauchon). Even when children plan to play outside it is often made into a structured event by the parent as a play date. Play dates essentially take away the spontaneity that playing outside once held because it is now planned out and timed by the parents. It appears as though modern American culture relies on scheduling to maintain one’s current lifestyle, but that also means parents scheduling children’s lives. In children who I have babysat, I have noticed many of them who I deem to be overscheduled. For example, one of the families I babysit has three children, all of whom are very talented in certain fields however on a typical babysitting day each of the children has two activities he or she must attend. After talking to the children, all three of them had told me that they used to like the activity they were enrolled in; however after going to so many practices they were no longer interested. One of the little girls wanted to play outside when I came over, however the parents informed me that she must attend her musical lesson with the neighbor before she can play outside. The little girl had her whole day planned out for her with little time to explore and create on her own. These children are being scheduled to participate in many activities which take away from the time that the kids could be playing games, learning and exploring how they want to. For younger children, socialization, individualization and learning about social norms are important tasks. Children tend to learn these interactions through made-up games, however in organized sports, the adults are the ones who create the rules and how the game is executed. Scheduling children’s lives and putting children in organized activities take away time that could have been spent playing outside by choice and might discourage a children from a passion they once held through over scheduling.
As the American culture changes, the way parenting is performed also shifts. Along with organized activities, parents have been putting a greater pressure for their children to succeed in particular aspects of life. By enrolling children in many organized activities, including musical lessons, sports, many parents are hoping to produce trophy children (Levs). The organized activities are taking up a large portion of the children’s’ free time and with the leftover time children often claim they are too tired to go outside and play. Parental competition has been on the rise where some parents are essentially training their children to be successful in some particular topic. Some parents enroll their children in sports, where practices are very demanding, in hopes of raising a child that excels in that particular sport. As parental competition rises, some parents require their children to participate in extra extracurricular activities regarding a specific topic, such as requiring children to practice an extra hour of soccer even though the child already goes to practice. Children’s bodies are not built for the repetitive physical activity that organized sports promote and with the inclusion of competitive parents and coaches can lead to injury by overworking the body (Shortridge). Parents are hoping that their children will become extremely successful in the enrolled activity, which will then bring satisfaction to the parent knowing that their child is more successful than others. American culture is much more competitive than the culture of the past, which causes many parents to instill their competitive nature in their children. Often times, parents force their children to play certain sports or be involved in activities after a child shows an interest in it. The parental influence in the child’s endeavors sometimes causes a child to lose interest in the topic that the parent is wishing the child to pursue. Children tend to lose passion in any activity after it is a requirement for him or her to complete. Pick-up games are ideal for inspiring passion since there are no coaching and competitive parents telling the child how to play or act in a game (Shortridge). Parents become invested in the activities their children perform and more often than not, emphasize that success is winning or receiving awards, rather than focusing on the enjoyment children receive from participating in the activity. Games such as baseball and basketball played with neighbors are turned into a competition and a future scholarship with the inclusion of competitive parents. The drive for winning not only discourages a child who performs poorly in a given task, but also causes children to not participate in activities and games that were once played outside.
Children playing seem to be disappearing in neighborhoods and playgrounds; however they are not disappearing due to an increase of kidnapping, rather societal pressures on parents to keep children safe and indoors are rising. Although children have been playing outside alone for many years, it is no longer deemed socially acceptable to allow a child to go to a park alone without supervision. Parents who allow their children to play outside alone are considered by other parents and the community to not be taking care of their child and inconsiderate to their child’s safety. In one particular case, a mother allowed her children to play by a bench that was visible from a window in the home, except while her son was playing alone outside a woman escorted the boy home and emphasized that the boy should not be playing alone because it is unsafe (“CPS Accuses Mother…”). Later, this mother was met by Child Protective Services to question whether the children were living in a safe environment (“CPS Accuses Mother…”). This instance that occurred in Texas was covered in multiple states raising the question of whether or not it is just to allow children to play outside alone. Influence from the community and stories such as these have caused a huge shift to indoor play, since parents view the inside space as the only safe environment for children to play while supervised. In one particular study, forty percent of children reported that they would play more outside, if their parents allowed it (Harris). This shows that it is not only the children choosing to stay indoors and play, but also are the parents who feel pressured to monitor their children at all times. In the media, reports on child abduction, pedophiles, and concerns regarding children safety have increased although the overall rate has not raised a significant amount. The increased reports cause parents and communities to worry about their child’s safety, causing most parents to keep their children inside to play. The social pressure to have constant supervision over a child has caused a decline of children playing outside as the parents either keep their children inside with other games and activities or enroll their children in organized activities that are supervised by figures of authority.
As many aspects of the American culture changes, as does the lives of the children living in the surrounding communities. Long gone are the days where a majority of the children are creating their own outdoor play game than stay inside and play with technologies or be involved in practices. No longer are children constantly playing outside, alone or with neighbors. Children, through the influence of media, culture and parents have shifted their unstructured play time from outside activities to indoor technology based and outdoor structured based activities. Childhood, where learning, exploring and creating is peaked in one’s life, has shifted from being learned in an outdoor environment to a more structured indoor environment.
Harris, Marlys. “Kids Stay Indoors: What Happened To, ‘Go outside and Play’?” MinnPost. N.p.,
09 Aug. 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. http://www.minnpost.com/cityscape/2013/08/kids-stay-indoors-what-happened-go-outside-and-play
Sackville, Kerri. “Kids Not Playing Ouside Anymore.” Sunrise. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
Levs, Josh. “Whatever Happened to ‘go outside and Play’?” CNN. Cable News Network, 22
March. 2013 Web. 01 Dec. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/22/living/let-children-play-outside/
Cauchon, Dennis. “Childhood Pastimes Are Increasingly Moving Indoors.” USATODAY. N.p.,
12 July 2005. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-07-11-pastimes-childhood_x.htm
Rowan, Cris. “The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child.” The Huffington Post.
TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 May 2013. Web. 29 Nov. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cris-rowan/technology-children-negative-impact_b_3343245.html
Taylor, Jim. “Children’s Immersion in Technology Is Shocking.” The Huffington Post.
TheHuffingtonPost.com 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jim-taylor/childrens-immersion-in-te_b_1871896.html
Shortridge, Donohue. “The Hazards of Organized Activities for Children Under 12 Years Old.”
The Hazards of Organized Activities for Children Under 12 Years Old (n.d.): n. pag. Pdonohueshortridge.com. Donohue Shortridge. Web. 1 Dec. 2014 http://www.garfieldmontessori.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/sports-1.pdf
“CPS Accuses Mother Of Child Endangerment For Letting Her Son Play Alone Outside.” CBS
Houston. N.p., 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. http://houston.cbslocal.com/2014/09/18/cps-accuses-mother-of-child-endangerment-for-letting-her-son-play-alone-outside/