“Kids hate going outside these days.”
“All kids want to do now is stare at a screen.”
“Should we even bother creating outdoor programming for kids? They just want to sit on the couch.”
If you would like to watch me lose my mind, go ahead an utter one of these things in my presence.
I am so tired of hearing people complain about kids no longer wanting to be outside.
First of all, it’s simply not true. I see no evidence that it is. I see playgrounds, bike paths, and parks full of kids all the time and those kids all seem pretty happy. I never see a kid sulking at a playground because they’d rather be playing Minecraft.
Secondly, if it is true, what are you doing to support that impression? What tone are you setting?
Here are three questions to ask yourself before you declare that your kids just hate the outdoors.
Are you setting a family culture of enjoying the outdoors?
I talk a lot about getting out and doing things, because, well, I have a blog about getting kids outside. But doing so takes time and sometimes money, and I’m certainly sympathetic to having very little of both of those. I also know that not everyone, even here in Maine, lives in the middle of the woods like I do.
You know what doesn’t take a lot of time, money, or space? Sitting out on the front steps and listening to the birds after dinner. Having a picnic in whatever local green space is nearby and watching the bugs. Driving to the nearest fishing hole or nature preserve for an hour on a Saturday.
It doesn’t take a lot, but your attitude means a lot. Start doing a few small things so your kids understand that you think the outdoors is important.
Are your kids too busy to go outside?
I was talking to a father one day and mentioned my husband taking our kids fishing that morning. He sighed wistfully. “I should do that with our kids,” he said. “We just never seem to have time.” I happened to know that these kids participated in year-round sports as well as other after-school activities that kept them busy from about 3 to 7 every night. In the summer they went to camp all day and then went to those activities. Of course they never had time!
Step back on the activities, carve out some free time in your schedule, and give your kids some downtime. If you have a packed work schedule and can’t manage it during the week, make sure to keep at least part of one weekend day free. Your kid’s resume doesn’t need to be longer than yours by the age of eight. It will be okay.
Give your family some downtime. You might be amazed at what they fill it with.
Do you set expectations around free time?
Yes, kids like screens. No doubt about that. Kids also like chocolate cake, ice cream, and pizza. Kids like the circus. Kids like roller coasters, glitter, and face paint. Kids like a whole lot of things that are great in moderation.
Just like you wouldn’t let your kid live at the circus or eat chocolate cake for every meal, you don’t need to let your kid use the iPad every time they want it. It’s okay to set boundaries. It’s okay to say, “You’ve played that game for a while now, I’d like you to find something else to do. Preferably something outside.”
It’s okay if they don’t like it when you say that. Because you are teaching them the rules that we all need to live by: that a healthy life is a balance and moderation is the key.
So do kids hate going outside these days?
Only if we teach them to.