A simple way to make communities happier, healthier and more family friendly
PROBLEM: Kids are rarely outside on their own anymore, walking, biking or playing. As activity levels drop, obesity, diabetes and depression are on the rise.
Children, like puppies, are naturally active. But in the past generation or two, seeing children outside “till the streetlights come on” has become uncommon. One study found that only 6% of kids age 9 to 13 play outside on their own even an hour a week, and the number of kids walking to school is down to 13%. Result? A John Hopkins study found that by age 19, young people’s activity levels are on par with people aged 60. The short and long term health implications are disturbing. For instance, from 2000 to 2009 the prevalence of Type 2 (“adult”) diabetes in children shot up 30%.
Kids’ emotional health is suffering, too. Psychologist Jean Twenge found that five to eight times more young people today have clinically significant anxiety or depression than 50 years ago. The suicide rate of children under age 15 has quadrupled. Boston College Psychology Professor Peter Gray believes this increased fragility and despair is connected to the decline of childhood free play and independence.
KIDS OUTSIDE ARE SAFER THAN YOU THINK: Keeping our kids inside and/or driving them everywhere is not “more necessary” today. Our crime rate is back to what it was in 1963 (and not because of helicopter parenting — crime is down against adults, too). Pedestrians deaths are at a 30-year low. The 24/7 news cycle has convinced us that kids are never safe when in fact, there has never been a safer time in human history, according to Harvard’s Stephen Pinker.
SOLUTION: SUPPORT KIDS GETTING OUT AND ABOUT IN THE COMMUNITY AGAIN
More support for kids’ outdoor independence would improve their physical, emotional and even scholastic well-being. (Studies have shown that the effect of walking to school is even bigger than the effect of eating breakfast, when it comes to kids’ ability to concentrate.) So:
Parents: Encourage your kids to walk and play outside.
Schools: Support walk- and bike-to-school programs, and after-school unstructured “recess.”
Health professionals: Consider the real, long-term dangers of sedentary behavior, not just the potential for outdoor injuries.
Government: Repeal laws that pose a barrier to play.
Law enforcement: Do not consider kids “neglected” just because they’re outside on their own.
Townsfolk: Welcome children as part of the landscape, on the sidewalks, in the stores, crossing streets. A town filled with kids is usually filled with everyone else, too, making it healthy and friendly.
For information on how to make your town a Capable Kids Community, please contact us at info@LetGrow.org.