You always hear about “the good old days” when children played outside until the street lights came on, parents didn’t have to be so paranoid about kidnappers, and being active was just part of life.
If those were the good old days, then it’s only logical that we must be entering the “bad new days.” The number of boys aged 10-14 who can’t do a single pushup has risen 64 percent since 1994. As bad as this seems for the future of the male gender, recent research shows that girls are twice as likely to be inactive as boys.
Children who play inside most of the time, like many children today, are more likely to be obese and engage in criminal behavior than kids who play outside with others at parks and playgrounds. That’s a double whammy. You might be able to handle an obese teenager, or possibly a teenaged criminal, but both at the same time could prove to be pretty difficult unless you’re a body-building superhero.
I never knew playing outside was so important.
People disagree on what is causing the unfit epidemic among kids, but you’ll hear a lot of blame going around—it’s the parents’ fault, the video games and smart phones, the government, the environment, the fast food industry, the unsafe neighborhoods, the schools for giving too much homework.
Could it possibly be that we’re just too paranoid to let our children be active?
I know that I’m one of those parents who are hyper-aware—OK, paranoid. My daughter is 3 and I would never let her play out of my sight. I make her sing to me while I’m in the bathroom or otherwise unavailable to her, which probably sounds really creepy, but is just a way for me to know she hasn’t been kidnapped or involved in a freak accident in the time it takes for me to pee.
And I’ve taught her not to talk to strangers, which backfires a little every time we stop to chat with someone she doesn’t know in a grocery store and she stonewalls them.
But my parental paranoia hasn’t stopped me from letting my daughter be an active kid and play outside. Since I’m not comfortable letting her play out of my sight, I just go with her. Everywhere. I try not to hover too much, but you can bet mama is always watching.
Since I’m uncomfortable with being the mother to a juvenile delinquent who can’t do a pushup, and I really need to work on my tan, I will continue to encourage my daughter to be active outside. Even if it’s not as safe out there—you know, with the rampant crime and depleted ozone layer—playing outside and occasionally scraping your knee is still an important part of childhood that I don’t want my little girl to miss out on.
Debra Carpenter is a novice mother, wife, and college student. She writes a weekly column on the comedy of motherhood and blogs for The Huffington Post. She’s online at motherinterrupted.com and Twitter @interrupted_ma.