“It’s Too Dangerous For Kids to Play Outside!” — How to Fight Back

It is a quirk of our era that we don’t seem able to do anything — fill in a crossword puzzle, drink a glass of water, butter a roll — without having some expert reason for doing so.  It’s good for the brain! The immune system! Epigenetics! Hand-eye coordination! Kidney function! Marital bliss!

This is irksome, because it means that we keep expecting and ingesting all sorts of silly studies, as if the unproven life is not worth living.

It is with that caveat that I present to you Part Two of the “Why dhrieraktk
Aren’t Kids Playing Outside on Their Own?
” poster: The Benefits of Free Play, by Caileigh Flannigan at Fix.com. She’s completely right and delightfully succinct.

Of course, these benefits should go without saying. But since the DANGERS of free play keep getting exaggerated in the press, the precinct house and on TV’s procedurals, we have to fight back with child development factoids of our own.

Play fight, that is. So thank you, Caileigh and readers: Use these to defend against the, “Why risk it???” crowd! – L.

The Benefits of Outdoor Free Play - Bring Back Children’s Play
Source: Fix.com Blog




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22 Responses to “It’s Too Dangerous For Kids to Play Outside!” — How to Fight Back

  1. Megan March 27, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

    There’s nothing wrong with solitary play when a child chooses it, and it would seem to be something that all children need a certain amount of over the course of childhood. Like cooperative play, there is a list of benefits to solitary play. It shouldn’t be on this poster.

  2. SKL March 27, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    I too was wondering what is so wonderful about decreasing solitary play. ??

  3. SKL March 27, 2017 at 12:44 pm #

    Outdoor play can just as well be solitary. Seems like, for kids who don’t like group activities much, solitary outdoor play would be a healthier option than sedentary indoor play. I have a kid like that, and this reminds me that I need to insist she get outside more often. Doesn’t matter what she does out there, it has to be better than sitting around indoors.

  4. LGB March 27, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

    I’m just trying to imagine going back in time, showing my ancestors this poster, and recording the no-sh*t-Sherlock looks on their faces.

  5. SKL March 27, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

    Speaking of “too dangerous” …. I’ve been thinking about options for my kids’ high school. They want to go to a school that is a good half hour drive away. Even if there is school bus service, they will have to find their own way home after extracurriculars. The public bus is an option. My brother took public buses when he went to 9th grade. It would be more complicated in the suburbs, but my kids aren’t stupid … but boy am I getting push-back from friends. Granted, where they grew up, a teen female on the bus was certain to be groped. That’s not here though. How to get this through people’s heads …. I said I had taken myself around the city by bus at age 9, but cue the usual “times are different now.” :/

    I think I’ll need to start making my kids bus themselves around in about the 7th grade, so people will understand it isn’t dangerous (at least not during regular business hours).

  6. LGB March 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

    I don’t see this poster as being exclusive to social play. Solitary players can still reap the benefits of 5/6 of these categories.

  7. Jill R March 27, 2017 at 2:13 pm #

    Solitary play is valuable and important– but like Megan said, “if a child chooses it”. I would venture to guess that out of all the children who go home after school to sit and play alone in their houses, only a fraction of them are doing it out of preference. If they had the option to play in the neighbourhood with other children, I think there would be a vast amount of kids choosing to go knock on doors, rather than watching tv or playing alone.
    I think today’s kids, in general, are spending too much time in solitary play. Families tend to be smaller now, so even sibling play is decreased. Free play time/recess at school is so short, it’d be laughable if it wasn’t so SAD.
    Kids need long periods of free play time for the play to evolve into more complex play– the roles and storylines deepen, change, get more complicated, which necessitates more negotiation, compromise, and conflict resolution on the part of the children. This is where executive function and emotional intelligence develops…

    It kills me that millions of children are prevented from the variety of play and kids to play with that they need, and instead are spending the majority of their free time playing alone or participating in adult-directed activities, and so much of the social free play they need has to be pre-planned and scheduled as a play date, with a pre-selected playmate whose parents have been properly vetted.

    Just my opinion, I think “decreased solitary play” is a valid item on the poster. Of course you wouldn’t want to eliminate solitary play altogether, but given how much solitary play time many kids have today, decreasing it can only be a good thing… except in the case of the overscheduled child who never gets any time to themselves, but that’s a whole other issue 😉

  8. Amy March 27, 2017 at 2:33 pm #

    My kids have been taking the city bus since 6th grade. I gave them a talk about when to do when (if?) the weird guy sits next to them and/or bugs them. Move seats. Go sit behind the driver and let them know what is happening. Let other people on the bus know that he is bother you. But, in the many years that they have been riding the bus, it’s been a minor issue a couple of times, but nothing that moving seats didn’t solve.

    Friends thought I was crazy at first, but now more of them have their kids on the bus too.

  9. CK March 27, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    Almost every family I know has a child with anxiety, ADD, OCD, ODD, depression, or difficulties with emotional regulation. Here’s how parents are responding: organized sports, counselors, medication, occupational therapy, strict dietary control (cutting out artificial flavors, dairy, gluten). When will parents start paying attention to articles like this which provide a much simpler, more natural and wholesome answer? BTW my kids are in organized sports, but they also have plenty of time for free play. They are playing in a huge dirt pile right now…

  10. SKL March 27, 2017 at 5:12 pm #

    Re the kids having anxiety, adhd etc.:

    I do believe one of my kids has some issues that could be treated with counseling or meds or an easier ride in school (like most of her peers with similar issues). However, I believe she’s better off powering through. I’m not speaking for all kids, just mine, but it probably applies to many others too.

    I have seen a lot of hard-won improvement over the past 4 years. It’s hard work raising a kid who has unaccommodated learning / emotional issues. It means essentially homeschooling in the evenings after we’ve put in a full day at work / school. It means I have to watch my child cry over things neither of us can help, and not place blame on anyone. It means my kid has to be satisfied with a B when she’s worked 3x as hard as the kids who got As. On the positive side, it means we put more emphasis on the things she naturally does well. The result so far is a kid with a sense of competence, a kid who will never go to med school, but will probably have a successful small business or a respectable job. A kid who knows those tears flowing are temporary and tomorrow will be a better day. And who is surprisingly astute about her own and other people’s needs.

    And yes, playing outside in both organized and unorganized activities has helped a lot. In her case, sports are a godsend on many levels. (Funny, because I loathed organized sports as a kid.)

  11. donald March 27, 2017 at 6:07 pm #

    Here’s my two cents on solitary play. I can’t explain it in 10 words or less. I think the designer of this poster has the same problem.

    Brain activity is similar to physical exercise. I can avoid a certain exercise because it makes me tired. That’s ok. However, it means that I miss out on the benefits that that exercise would bring.

    Often people avoid group play or interacting with others because the social activity feels awkward. This awkward feeling is similar to the exhausted feeling that you get from physical exercise. I have a better explanation of why this is so on my blog page.


    On this page, I give an example of a baby learning how to balance. His brain builds ‘roads’ between the three groups of neurons. These 3 groups are the cochlea, the visual orientation, and the foot pressure. (more weight on the right foot than the left?) The road between these three groups is only a one lane road and the baby still isn’t very good at balancing. As he learns to walk, this one lane road will become 50,000 lanes!

    Building roads is exhausting and feels awkward. Likewise, putting up with having few lanes also feels awkward. An alternative is to avoid. It’s not practical to avoid standing and thus refraining from building lanes called ‘balance’. However, one can easily avoid interaction with others and thus avoid building lanes called ‘social skills’.

    Solitary play is ok. However, the child still misses out on the benefits of building lanes called ‘social skills’. Avoiding social activity can become a habit well into the adult years.

  12. SKL March 27, 2017 at 6:46 pm #

    I agree that social stuff can be exhausting for some people, especially introverts like me.

    But it’s not because I didn’t get enough time with other people. I was born the 3rd of 6 kids. I shared a bedroom with up to 3 siblings, and shared a bed with up to 2 siblings, until I was 13. My family of 8 shared a small house with 1 bathroom. 1 TV and 1 piano to fight over. Went to school, endured gym / lunch / recess with people who were often jerks, played on the playground and had the run of the neighborhood (an old neighborhood in a big city, lots of kids around). NO lack of human interaction. If I wanted to read a book at home, I would hide under an end table hoping nobody would notice me.

    Alone time serves a definite purpose. Not only to recover from all that interaction, but to have time to make one’s own unique connections without all the noise and rushing and competing.

  13. JP Merzetti March 27, 2017 at 7:03 pm #

    Benefits of solitary play.
    Development of a healthy imagination.
    Becoming comfortable in one’s own skin.
    Becoming more and more reliant upon one’s own ever-growing skill set.
    And toward the esoteric – discovering what the world looks, sounds, smells and feels like at your own speed, and according to your own reflections – and having the time to put all that together.

    Alone – is a very, very different thing than lonely.

    But is anyone ever alone? – when having a constant technological companion, and all those incessant demands placed upon oneself by all those (apparently) absent?

    I used to imagine being as solitary as a wolf, an eagle, any last man standing. It is easy. All it ever really requires is space. (Wilderness helps, too.)
    Solitude connected me to nature. Other forms of existence divorce us from that beauty.

    And of course, because I did all this as a child – it was indeed, play.
    It was play that caused me to invite other kids along for the fun, sometimes.
    It was play that caused lots of conversation – about an endless parade of philosophies.
    It never occurred to me that this was something I was too young for.
    Although of course, I was too young for the silly (though at times, necessary) sophistications of adults.

    But there was a secret I learned back then. Kids can have secret lives – lives that they understand implicitly, are exceedingly good and healthful. The time, the space, the room, the mindset and inclination….to be an independent human being, as far as that is possible for a kid to be.
    (I learned an infinite variety of stuff about that when I was 16.)

    But you see, it was mostly just about this: we kids, all of us – put all this together ourselves (while most adults in our lives were going about the business of being adult.)
    No-one ever really asked us about it. Much less supervised the actuality of it. They mostly just got the hell out of the way and left it up to us.
    If that caused trouble, they dealt with it (often, very competently.)
    But they didn’t assume trouble offhand.

    I remember being trusted as a kid.
    To do the right thing. (and not the wrong thing.)
    To know the difference.
    To take care of myself.
    To exercise common sense, and good judgement.
    And most importantly:
    To apply all those good things that my freedom had afforded me.
    That’s the part – that was entirely negotiable: freedom.
    um…..the desire for freedom can be an excellent teacher.

  14. Megan March 27, 2017 at 7:11 pm #

    SKL, I’m with you! And while it’s true that most families are smaller today, for kids in school, there is no hiding for 7 or so hours a day from noise, people all around you, and general overstimulation. I imagine that some solitary time every day is very important for school kids in order to recalibrate, learn to hear one’s own thoughts, etc. Certainly no one wants a child to play alone all day, every day, but for most kids some time to oneself is critical. Without it, they will be very uncomfortable with their own company as adults. And that’s very sad.

  15. SKL March 27, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

    JP Merzetti’s post reminds me of a poem I wrote when I was 15, called “Being Alone.” I’m sure I still have it somewhere in my Anything Book. 😛

    That middle child in that crowded house craved time to just have myself to myself. I would sit up late at night when everyone else was asleep, drawing, writing, or just sitting in a tree in the backyard, enjoying the breeze and watching the leaves, moon, and clouds play together. Just remembering it brings back awesome feelings.

  16. SKL March 27, 2017 at 7:25 pm #

    Another thing. When I used to work in an office, when things got really stressful, I would walk down to the lake (the city was on a lake shore) and just sit and stare at the water. I would just listen for the lesson that the lake was going to teach me about handling life’s ups and downs. I had meditated on how nature has found a way to solve every imaginable problem its own way. Being open to learning from nature, quietly, alone, can help humans to solve complex human problems. It always worked for me.

  17. donald March 27, 2017 at 10:27 pm #

    I’m not for or against solitary play. I’m against the habit of avoiding simply because it makes you uncomfortable. (that’s a broad statement) That’s why I made the big song and dance about how the uncomfortable feeling can be the same as the exhaustion after physical exercise in order to explain what I mean.

    Some do only solitary play because they don’t like the uncomfortable feeling of socializing. If this is the case, I think they are better off pushing past the fear of playing in groups. Some do only group play because they don’t like the uncomfortable feeling of being alone*. If this is the case, I think they are better off pushing past the fear of solitary play. They need to spend some time on it.

    *This feeling is normal in most. However, some are insecure if alone. The more insecure it makes them feel, the more they need to push past the fear. This is the best way to ‘vaccinate’ yourself against anxiety.

  18. donald March 27, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

    “I’m not for or against solitary play.”

    I misspoke. I agree with everything that JP Merzetti said. I’m actually for solitary play and think it’s a requirement for a healthy lifestyle. (some solitary and some group play) I just see so much of it lately as a way to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of learning how to socialize.

    BTW the cornerstone of anxiety is snowballing avoidance

  19. donald March 27, 2017 at 11:22 pm #

    I’m an introvert as well. I hated to speak in groups. That’s why I joined Toastmasters. I joined even though the first several times that I spoke it was about as much fun as going to the dentist!

  20. SKL March 27, 2017 at 11:43 pm #

    I tried Toastmasters. The guy in charge had such bad breath I could hardly stand being in the room with him, and then he started to hit on me. So that was off, LOL.

    We don’t have to be all things to all people. It’s OK if some of us never become comfortable presenters. We can look forward to growing old and enjoying the days when nobody actually cares. 😛 I’ve have had many different jobs, including some where I had to give presentations in order to remain employed, which was pure torture for me and often for my listeners. 😛 Once I got laryngitis on the morning I was supposed to give a speech, and then I got shingles from the stress. Not worth it! It makes a lot more sense for people like me to provide the material for other people to present. I am very happy being a “back office” person. I’d be even happier if there were no phones involved.

    I have a kid who loves the stage, and one who abhors it. For years I put them both in theater camps etc. to try to get them used to presenting in front of people. I’m not sure it has made any difference with the shy one. Finally I stopped signing her up per her request. Hopefully someday she will find the thing she wants to tell the world about. I can’t force it to happen.

  21. Emily March 28, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

    Well………yeah. It’s dangerous for kids to play outside, because some busybody sanctimommy might call the police or CPS on them, and report their parents as “negligent.”

  22. Jessica March 28, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    There’s a theory that lack of outdoor play (and therefore lack of sunshine) is leading to an epidemic of nearsightedness. Sunlight stimulates a specific hormone that impacts the shape of our eyes as we grow. If kids don’t get enough of it, they’re more likely to become nearsighted.