by Peter R.
When I was a child, most of my fondest memories came outdoors. Pictures of my many cousins and I playing outside for hours before family dinners, in our grandparents’ expansive yard, will always stay with me. Jailbreak became a crowd favorite, but no matter what the activity, rarely would a child in the Murphy clan ever be found indoors if weather allowed. In recent years, technology and social media have changed what childhood play represents. Video games, iPads and cell phones have rendered games like stickball and kick the can obsolete for youth today. Youth’s inability, and disdain for playing outside in recent years has become, in my opinion, an extremely negative factor in not only youth development, but also society as a whole.
Firstly, technological change has been a very large part of the sudden sedentary behaviour of kids today, but another factor may actually be a parenting issue. In an era where youth sport is organized, structured, and “safer” than free play, parents may begin to lose connect with what play really should be. To youth, the concept of free play (play with no boundaries/proper organization) almost always used to mean playing outside with friends and family. Parents concerned about the safety of their children, while a responsible action, have somewhat taken away kids developing their own games, leading their own adventures, finding new ways to enjoy their free times, and exploring their environment. Part of being a kid used to be falling down, getting dirty, hurting yourself but getting back up, but youth are more sheltered from the outside world than ever before.
Because we see a trend in kids staying inside and playing more than ever, the question has to be asked; is playing outside even important to youth? The answer is a major yes. In a study by Mainella, Agate, and Clark (2011), the lack of outdoor play by youth has many effects including those on physical, mental, and cognitive health. For example, a recent study concluded that psychological benefits could be found in free play outdoors. One hundred and 29 toddlers with development issues between 9 and 24 months were given either free playtime or supplements to help their growth. Sixteen years later, the toddlers who engaged in play measured significantly higher in self-esteem and significantly lower levels of anxiety, depression, and attention issues, than the supplement group (p. 94). The study also found a positive correlation between outdoor play at a young age, and having better control over disorders like attention hyperactivity (ADHD; p. 95)
Many of the 40 youth development assets could be classified as a part of their physical environment, and if we don’t allow kids to explore that nature, we inhibit youth’s ability to fully develop. Outdoor activities allow youth to become leaders, athletes, explorers, and creators can lead to incredibly positive outcomes. For instance, the generation of kids who grew up playing outside are now raising their own children. If we don’t begin to allow those kids to understand their environment, where does that place ideals like sustainability and environmentalism? I believe that people make the world a smaller place by keeping kids inside. With the entire world literally at their fingertips, kids are losing the desire to physically experience the outside world.
I found this interesting study on the effects of outdoor activity on youth. It is very long but check this out!
- Mainella, F. P., Agate, J. R., & Clark, B. S. (2011). Outdoor‐based play and reconnection to nature: A neglected pathway to positive youth development. New directions for youth development, 2011, 89-104.
- Fjørtoft, I. (2004). Landscape as Playscape: The effects of natural environments on children’s play and motor development. Children Youth and Environments,14, 21-44.