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Tracey Gaughran

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Launched in 2006 by two stay-at-home moms, Mama Pop is the independent voice for parents on pop culture, entertainment, gossip, fashion and web culture.

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Where Have All The Outdoor Kids Gone?

By Tracey Gaughran |

Hey parents, remember when you were a kid back in ye olde paleolitic era (circa 1970s/80s), and summer was all about rambunctious outdoor fun and frolicking? Remember how you’d cast off the shackles of school text books and rigid schedules, and spend those warm months running amok, scrambling around the neighborhood with your friends like a feral pack of wolf-children, surviving only on popsicles, hotdogs, and Hubba Bubba? Remember those good, wholesome, outdoor-lovin’ times?

Yeah, well I hate to be the one to break it to you, but where our own children are concerned those days are pretty much over.

Like me, you’ve doubtless noticed by now that we’re studiously cultivating a nation of almost 100 percent Indoor Living People, and that our collective turning away from outdoor play has been in effect for some time. But why? Who or what’s to blame for our children’s wholesale shunning of the out-of-doors, AND CAN WE KILL IT WITH FIRE?

I for one have my theories and suspects. Let’s run down the short list and haphazardly point some fingers, shall we?

America’s Most Wanted: Starting way back in the quaint, Little House On The Prairie-like 1980s, America’s Most Wanted began their weekly broadcasts of terror, each hour-long episode full to the brim with sinister child abductors and evil molestors of all stripes who may or may not live right next door. And though stranger danger is indeed strange — as in exceedingly rare — and the actual number of abduction cases hasn’t increased substantially in decades, thanks to AMW our awareness of and exposure to those rare instances has SKYROCKETED INTO THE STRATOSPHERE, leaving all of us fearful, paranoid, and ridiculously overprotective decades later. THANKS, AMW. THANKS A WHOLE FREAKIN’ LOT.



Atari: You know how nature can be improved upon? By rendering it in 8-bit with a paltry number of colors and a squawking synth soundtrack, that’s how. And once Atari came out with the 2600 console, deep down we all knew it was true: playing outside was instantly an obsolete, 3-dimensional yawnfest. There were, after all, alien warships to destroy and princesses to rescue from giant rogue apes. How you gonna beat that, outside? Huh? HOW?






Global Warming & Friends: Back when I was a kid in the 1970s, summer was cooler. Like, LITERALLY SEVERAL DEGREES COOLER IN TEMPERATURE. Now popsicles melt faster, soda gets warm and grody in the blink of an eye, and you’d sure as heck better put on SPF 190 if you plan to be outside for more than five freakin’ minutes, kiddo, because that hole in the ozone isn’t going anywhere. As of this writing, the level of preparation required for children just to venture out-of-doors to play now resembles that required of shuttle astronauts undertaking a space walk. (Oh and if you plan to ride your bike, don’t forget your helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, shinguards and protective gloves, junior!) None of this helps encourage outdoor fun timez. ‘Nuff said.







Barney, aka The Big Purple Killjoy: I love you, you love me, let’s sit in front of the happy glowing screen until our eye sockets bleed (those were the lyrics, right?). Premiering just a few years after America’s Most Wanted (COINCIDENCE? OR CONSPIRACY?), Barney & Friends was on the vanguard of Indoor Children’s Television, encouraging caring, sharing, and never leaving the house. I mean, who needs real human playmates when Barney loves you SO. DAMN. MUCH? (And yes, I realize there was children’s television prior to the inception of Barneydom, including Sesame Street and the classic Saturday morning cartoons of yore, but I’m going to valiantly forge ahead and lay the blame at Barney’s hideous, yellow-toenailed feet all the same. My daughter is almost ten years old and yes, I’M STILL JUST THAT BITTER. Stupid dinosaur.)

Just sayin’.

But I’ve just scraped the iceberg’s tip of possible causes and/or contributors to the scourge of Indoor Children, I know. So now it’s your turn: who or what, in your opinion, is to blame for this generation of outdoors haters? Share your possibly misplaced outrage in comments!

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About Tracey Gaughran


Tracey Gaughran

Mama Pop is the independent voice for parents on pop culture, entertainment, gossip, fashion and web culture. Read bio and latest posts → Read Tracey's latest posts →

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14 thoughts on “Where Have All The Outdoor Kids Gone?

  1. Cheri Sells says:

    I also consider the price of fun outdoor activities to be a huge factor. For example, our local rec center’s “Aquatic Center” is $300.00 for a three month family pass. To add to that, a “family” is only 4 individuals. So, if you have 4 kids and 2 adults, you are hosed and have to pay and additional $100.00.
    I remember riding to the pool with my friends and spending the day for next to nothing. Not any longer. Oh, and the do not have discounts or scholarships for low income families. Such bullshit!

  2. Maureen says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this; I think about it a lot. One of the small factors, for me, is that my mom was able to stay at home through much of our childhood and was able to keep an eye on us outside or at least be available. I don’t get to stay home, and while my children do go outside a lot and have plenty of unstructured play at preschool, it’s not quite the same as leaving on your bike in the morning and only showing up at home again for lunch and dinner.

  3. Dorkaleena says:

    All of this! OMG SO MUCH OF THIS!!!!

    I think the biggest factor is the atmosphere of fear that we live in. Each generation takes it JUUUUUST a little further because the fear is embedded JUUUUUUST a little deeper than it was in their parents. It’s sad and I hate it, yet I’m as guilty of it as anyone at times. Bleh.

  4. The Queen of Hyperbole says:

    I consider myself very, very lucky to live in a place where outdoor play, even in the scorching heights of summer, is pretty much the norm. Not to say, of course, that the neighborhood kids never venture indoors for a deep, intoxicating swig of AC and video games, but their tendencies, overall, are toward street-scootering hijinks and backyard frolic. Mayberry, this isn’t, but it’s nice to have kids — and watchful parents — all over the place, even if it means almost always having some extra kid at your table for dinner.

  5. @ The Queen of Hyperbole: stop taunting me with your idyllic ‘hood! Dammit, Laura! :)

  6. Korinthia says:

    Well, when the temps hit 100 my kids started looking for indoor projects to keep cool, but when the heat isn’t dangerous they do play outside most of the time. They like to bike and scooter and we have a trampoline and they play with the hose…. My kids are definitely on a shorter leash than I was as a kid, but that hasn’t really impacted how much they play outside. And there are always pickup games going on in the alleys, and skateboarders in our intersection, so my kids aren’t alone.

  7. AM Cribbin says:

    Let’s not forget the “It Takes A Village” approach. When I was young and me the rest of the hooligans ran the streets from dawn to dusk, the mother’s in the neighborhood got together and bought a bell. Yep, a big ole school/monastery/convent bell. We (the kiddos) ran the lenght of the neighborhood, built forts in the woods, gathered for marble matches on the sewer tops, and peddled away from imaginary “bad guys” on our bikes. But when the bell rang at noon and five…one the dot…we ditched our hideouts, aliases, and Schwins to check in at home and spend sacred time around the table for meals. We also had an 8 o’clock bell…dreaded by all. Bath time, and bed for the 10 and unders. And a 9 o’clock bell for the rest…showers, lightning bugs SEALED in mason jars, and plans of hostile Good Humor Truck takeover on hold until tomorrow. Those were the days!
    Last Child In The Woods by Richard Louc is a GREAT read about this phenomenon.

  8. Shandra says:

    A lot, if not most, kids are in daycare during the prime play-outside hours during the week; on weekends families are sticking together more.

  9. Cory says:

    I’m with the poster who brought up the 2 parents working. I’m at home with my kids in the summer as my job is flexible. I work in family ministry at our church and almost all of our kiddos are in summer camp/with grandparents all summer. I think that is a big part of not seeing the kids “running around the neighborhood.”
    Because my children are still youn g(5, 4, and almost 2) they could run around our yard all day and night. We have to round ‘em up because they are sweat drenched and bug-bitten. Although in this crazy heat of 99+ degrees, we’ve kept to the pool or indoors.

  10. Alexicographer says:

    Yeah. My preschooler’s outside a lot, but mostly because my DH is a SAHP and I’ve got a flexible enough schedule (and an, ahem, energetic enough kid) to make this possible. He’s old enough (5) that I’d let him wander the ‘hood some with the other kids but — as noted — there aren’t any (out playing unsupervised).

  11. Katheen says:

    I agree with Julia that another big contributor is that so many households have two working parents. KIds are at camp, where they only get maybe an hour or two at most of outdoor play because of the heat. When families get home at night, both parents are usually exhausted and so have no energy to take the family outdoors.

    To combat the outdoor and heat problem, we are simply spending the summer in the pool.

  12. Amanda says:

    I blame the fear of abduction. I used to have it. My hubby convinced me that my children had a better chance of dying young of heart disease than being abducted. We live on a highway so there is that fear too, that being said my girls do run the neighborhood AND we have a bell that I ring at dinnertime. :) They are in more extracurriculars though so they play outside LESS than I did but that time is spent in organized activities. We do stay inside once it hits 90ish. You do have to factor that in the 70s/80s many did not have air condition (and if they did they kept it way up) so it wasn’t much cooler inside and kids were more accustomed to the higher temps.

  13. maggiemoo says:

    Wow! The number one reason kids spend so much time indoors is…..all you parents and your 101 excuses for not sending them out!!! Open the door and send them out!! If it’s hot, they’ll find shade and water. They’ll find something to keep them busy. The world is safer than it has ever been! Two working parents? Send them out after you get home!! By themselves! Not “used to the higher temps”. What? *smh* Put a book in their hands and tell them to find a shady spot, if need be. Even a book about the bugs they don’t like! I feel sorry for your children…

  14. Shannon says:

    Well said. This is a huge issue since kids these days have more health problems than ever (obesity, depression, anxiety etc.) and fewer coping skills (managers report young employees these days can’t make decisions and can’t cope with responsibility well). Kids need space to go, they don’t need their childhoods micromanaged.

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