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Is This the Real Reason Our Kids Don’t Want to Play Outside?

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Summer is almost officially here, and my parenting neuroses have kicked into overdrive.

Every time my 4-year-old runs outside into the sunshine, or my 18-month-old walks through tall grass or under a low-hanging tree on our 14-acre property in the country, I experience a tiny prickle of anxiety. June’s going to sunburn, I just know it. Katie’s going to get a tick bite, I can feel it. Spiders are going to bed down in their hair.

There I sit in my lawn chair, watching them frolic and splash in the kiddie pool. They’re oblivious to the inner battle waging behind my Ray Bans. Is the SPF I just slathered on both of them strong enough? Did I get enough behind their ears? I should have slathered their feet. Why didn’t I slather their feet?

It’s everything I can do to remain still. Not to jump out of my chair, lug them both out of the pool in the midst of playtime to reapply more SPF 70 to their bodies, all the while casually mentioning the dangers of excessive sun exposure. I’m just being a good mom, I tell myself. A diligent mom. A mom who wants to preserve her babies’ nice skin.

I have to be their slightly neurotic health advocate, I tell myself, because no one else will.

But more often than not, I don’t get out of my lawn chair. I sit there trying hard to pretend I’m “cool mom.” I’m “chill mom.” I want to protect my girls from sunburns and tick bites but I also want them to feel comfortable in the natural world. I don’t want to inadvertently convey the message that time spent outside is a production or an environment to guard against. We live in the country. If my girls pick up the message that bugs are “bad,” or the sun is “evil,” they’ll never go outside. Nor will I.

I know kids and parents like this — the kids aren’t allowed outside for 20 minutes without first being dunked in a vat of sunscreen and slathered in a bottle of insect repellent. And we wonder why kids never want to go outside. In our zeal to protect our children from the elements, do we end up spreading the message that nature is, well, unnatural?

For me, it’s a constant battle – weighing my natural neuroticism against wanting my kids to feel free outside. So I try to be covert about outdoor protection. Right now, I push for fuller coverage clothes — lightweight cargo pants, loose, drapey long-sleeve tops (why they even make tank tops for babies is beyond me), I do a full tick check without explaining what I’m doing (I figure I can get to that when they’re older) and I encourage pool time in the shade.

It’s not a perfect solution, and my summertime anxiety probably isn’t going anywhere, but I’d rather be a little bit anxious than let my kids fear nature.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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