The Lost Frontier

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!


  1. 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 development2011, 89-104.
  2. 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.
This entry was posted in Outdoors/Nature, Positive Youth Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Lost Frontier

  1. Kirstin33 says:

    I have to agree with you Peter, I am from a small country hometown where if you were not in school or sleeping you were playing outside. I think that my sisters and I learned very valuable lessons that we otherwise would not have if we never played outside. For example, my house is beside a brook that leads up into the hills where there is a falls, we would always go hiking up there during the summer. My sister and her friend went up during the spring when the water was still very high from the snow melting. To make a long story short they almost got washed down the brook because of the power of the water. Since my house is located right along the bay we were always taught to respect the water and we all were very strong swimmers. So my sister and her friend got out safely in the end. What I am trying to get at with this story is that without these experiences and chances to explore out environments, we would not have this information to use later in life. I believe that my sister learned a valuable lesson that day, to not hike up the brook during the spring. I also believe this would lead to her developing her planning and decision making, peer-relationships, resistance skills, and honesty. I’m sure my sister will make better decisions around water because of that experience. That her relationship with her friend was strengthened through the experience because they had to help on another. That my sister will say no to friends who suggest to do something silly as that in the future, and that my sister was honest and told my mother what had happened.
    Through these outdoor experiences we have when we are playing and exploring as a child without supervision we are able to take control and make decisions. My sister and her friend were able to make decisions on their own on how to solve the problem. This also showed how they were able to think for themselves, which I think is another aspect that gets taken away with helicopter parents and not playing outside. My mother did not become a helicopter parent and not allow my sister to not play outside because of this. Instead, she told her that she hoped my sister learned a lesson today, and I think it showed my mom that my sister could make good decisions when in a bad situation.
    Outdoor play is more than just playing around and getting muddy. It is a way for youth to experience situations they otherwise would not have the opportunity to in front of their computer.

  2. mmurchie15 says:

    The moment I learned this post was about the lack of outdoor play youth have today, I thought of two main reasons for this. Technology and parenting, which as expected were both discussed in your post. Firstly, technology is in many ways changing the world we live in, but unfortunately the effects it has on youth seem to be negative rather than positive. All we here today is how children spend hours and hours on “screen time” and less outdoors. As I think back to my childhood, I remember it being more balanced regarding screen time and outdoor play. As much as I loved my cartoons and video games, I needed that recreational outdoor play as a child, and would feel reckless inside if I went without it. Although technology is advancing drastically all the time, it is not like my generation did not have it when I was a child, or even the generation before me. We still had cartoons, video games, some kind of battery operated toy, but it did not seem to keep us from the outdoors as much as it does today. So why all of a sudden is there a lack of outdoor play in todays youth? This question leads to my second point I mentioned, parenting. The “helicopter parent” or over protecting parent is a problem in todays society. More than ever before, parents “hover” over their children, scared to let them out of their sights. Now I understand that we live in a dangerous world, however sheltering your children from outdoor, unstructured, unsupervised play is really just hurting their development in my opinion. As a child, I was constantly playing outside, adventuring the neighbourhood, and yes sometimes I was up to no good, but all these things taught me valuable life lessons and helped make me the person I am today.

    Great post Peter, love the topic.

    Michael Murchie.

  3. This topic really hits home to most of us students in Kinesiology for a couple different reasons. First of all, it bothers me because I am hoping to teach physical education and the importance of physical activity to their health and well being. Secondly, it bothers me because the obesity rates continue to rise and yet we are seeing children lose out on play time. We are seeing a time in this world now where children are dying faster than their parents due to obesity related illnesses because they are not outside playing with their friends either because, like you mentioned, their parents are preventing them from being outside in a “risky” setting and also because they would rather play video games or text their friends than exercise. This is the complete opposite to how I was brought up, when I was growing up, like most of us, I played outside till the sun went down and I was always enrolled in some type of sport and didn’t have a phone till grade 10, had monitored computer time and never had a gaming console.

    Great post buddy!

    Andrew H

  4. sthorne95 says:

    Great post Peter!

    You mentioning playing jailbreak brought back a lot of memories for me! 

    I definitely agree that technology is taking over youths’ free time allowing them to participate in more sedentary behavior, rather than physical activity. I also believe that it is because of this vast up rise in technology that is the reason for parents becoming more and more protective over youth. For example, crimes that are committed, who committed them, and where they were committed, are plastered all over the television, the internet, social media, etc. Also, life threatening events that happen to youth like drowning, becoming paralyzed, etc. due to unstructured/unsupervised play and physical activity play a huge role in how parents feel about their children participating in unstructured/unsupervised play.

    Automatically, youth become more susceptible to sedentary behaviors because parents don’t want their own children being put in these situations and therefore, won’t allow them to participate in any “risky” activity. They believe that unstructured/unsupervised play is dangerous and has no positive effect on youth development and therefore, believe that they need to shelter their children from participating in any sort of activity that could potentially pose any risks or result in any sort of “consequence”. Funnily enough, it is our generation who experienced unstructured/unsupervised play and it is our generation who are now becoming parents, so why the sudden need to be so protective? We enjoyed ourselves, we learned many lessons, we broke bones, had stitches, fell out of trees, crashed our bikes, and we turned out to be successful adults – who are trying to promote this same thing to future youth.

    As recreation leaders, we need to promote unstructured/unsupervised play as a positive component of youth development. Children need to explore their surroundings, make up their own games to play with their peers (like Jailbreak), fall down and get dirty, experience hurt and a little bit of pain every now and then. These opportunities provide youth with many skills that contribute towards positive youth development, but toady’s parents are overlooking that. Exploring the outdoors teaches youth not to fear their surroundings; making up their own games and free-time play allows them to build creativity and have imagination; choosing to participate in activities that they enjoy as well as activities that could potentially result in broken bones is the first step towards being able to make their own decisions, which leads to future planning and decision-making skills; and so on and so forth. It is my opinion that parents are often hypocritical because they won’t allow their children to participate in “risky” activities, yet if you knew half the stuff your parents did when they were kids, you’d be wondering how they are still alive. Haha.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I liked readying your blogpost, since it’s a very hot topic lately. I remembered being a child who didn’t like playing outside that much, not because I didn’t like to play in the nature (I love nature). But I was extremely afraid of other kids, and especially strange kids. I remembered my mom sometimes pushing me outside, and closing the door behind me. This may sound strange, but it also gave me the opportunity to grow. Develop my self-esteem to invite other kids, overcoming my fears, and after a while I totally forgot I was anxious and I loved playing outside more. If my mom didn’t do this when I was young, I would have become more social anxious in life with lower self-esteem. With this, I want to reflect that parents nowadays don’t push children anymore. One reason, as you called is that parents want to protect their children more than ever. This, because a lot of research is done on child development (and you don’t want to screw your kid up), parenting is watched more than before, and everyone has an opinion about everyone (and is allowed to express this). Remember the lady who got all the negative comments about letting her child ride the subway. Media can expose your child more easily than before, and this has a very negative effect on letting kids be free.

    Lisette V

Comments are closed.