Over a Beer: “What if Kids Stop Playing Outside?”

Photo: Scott Anderson

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

I am not a father. I have no children. However, at one point I was myself a child (as most of us were), and it’s interesting to me to observe the kids and teens that I interact with, to see how their environment has changed in the relatively short amount of time since my own childhood. Despite the fact that I don’t have kids myself, I think it’s important to sit down and attempt to answer the question: “What if kids stop playing outside?”

Here’s a video to jumpstart your mental processes:

As a non-parent, this column isn’t intended to proclaim the decline of our civilization, philosopher king-style. Rather, it’s an invitation to pause and think about this question.

Briefly, here are three potential outcomes that I can personally envision if kids stop playing outside:

1. Kids won’t develop a true understanding of natural consequences.

This was highlighted superbly in the video above, but I think it’s a critical point to reiterate. I’ve personally observed an ever-increasing disregard for consequences in the world around us. Whether it’s a politician that breaks the law and keeps their job, a frat boy who commits a rape and gets away with a slap on the wrist, or a driver who rolls their car while trying to drive 100mph on a curvy road, many humans that share our air have a poor concept of consequences, and they try to avoid them at all costs when things do go wrong.

When you plant your front wheel in a rut instead of riding up and over the root in front of you, you flip over the handlebars. The consequences are immediate and absolute. There is no argument to be made–you immediately suffer the repercussions of your actions.

2. Kids won’t acquire the grit and perseverance that challenging themselves in a truly visceral way provides.

If we constantly ask for easy, we’ll get soft, weak human beings in return, instead of hardy men and women shaped by challenge and adversity.

3. Kids will lose touch with the environment and other life on the planet around them.

I know of no better way to be in tune with the environment, the changing of the seasons, the movements of animals through their natural habitat, than to spend time under the big blue expanse of open sky. Sometimes I can personally go three or four days at a time without leaving my house, especially if its nasty and unpleasant outside. If the fridge is stocked, I don’t even need to put my shoes on for my commute from the bedroom to the kitchen to my office.

However, I’ve noticed that if I go so much as one day without stepping outdoors, I lose touch with what the weather is doing. I lose touch with the fluctuations in temperature, the budding of the trees in the spring, the changing of the leaves in the fall, the melting of the snow on the ground. We can completely miss out on these rhythms of life and change in our world that our ancestors were intimately familiar with. This lack of connection can lead to comments like “climate change is a hoax,” as we stare out through our windows with the air conditioning roaring. Yet people who have stayed intimately connected to our environment, who haven’t shuttered themselves away, stand witness to our world changing around us.

Now It’s Your Turn

As I mentioned above, this column an invitation to sit and think about this question, and what it means for our kids and our world. So I turn it over to you, especially all of the parents out there: what do you think will happen if kids stop playing outside? Share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns in the comments section below…

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