Where Have All The Outdoor Kids Gone?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.)
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!